Nov. 7–George Clough works out at the gym three days a week. He lifts weights at home. And, when the weather cooperates, he golfs a couple of times a week, too.
He's a father. A grandfather. A great-grandfather. And, at 90 years old, he's a great-great grandfather, too.
For more than 20 years, he has exercised with Wilson Saunders and Pauline Moore at the cardiac rehabilitation program at the YMCA in downtown Spokane.
"We've established our own exclusive group," Clough says with a laugh.
Like Clough, Saunders is 90. And Moore is 91.
"It's quite a social group," Moore says.
And, with that, Clough takes Moore by the arm.
"Shall we walk, little lady?" he says as the two start their laps around the YMCA gym.
All three of the 90-year-old exercisers live independently. They still drive.
They're quick with a joke.
"Mostly, it keeps me very mentally alive to socialize with people," Clough says , while walking on the treadmill. "The big thing is having lots of friends.
No doubt about it: Exercise is important for everybody. But, as we age, exercise can make the difference between an independent life and a life dependent on other people.
"If you keep moving and use the body, use the mind, be social and stay in the groove, you can keep that mobility," says Vicki Marsh, wellness coordinator for active older adults at the downtown YMCA. "You have less medical issues to deal with."
Dr. Bruce Dentler, a Spokane geriatric specialist, takes care of patients in area nursing homes.
"I'm finding that the two main determinants for why people end up in nursing homes is either, one, dementia and the families can't take care of them, or the second biggest reasoning is physical deconditioning," Dentler says. "As people live long enough, if they get sick or they get an injury and they're in poor condition, they don't recover."
Clough and the other members of the "exclusive" 90-year-old club have all had heart problems. Clough skied for nearly 40 years until he found, in 1982, that he had a blocked coronary artery. But he didn't give up his regular exercise, a fact he credits with keeping future heart problems at bay.
Saunders has had quadruple bypass surgery. In 2003, he had a valve replaced.
And Moore, a retired physician, had a heart attack in 1981.
"I think I've had some very good instruction here," she says of the YMCA class, which includes stretching, strength training and endurance exercises.
Exercise does not need to be especially vigorous to see benefits.
"A baby step is to just stay as vertical as often as possible," says Peggy Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, who works at a seniors' health club in California.
"If you can move vertical forward, backward and side-to-side, that's great.
That's walking. … Just get some movement in every single day."
For those who are up to walking, Buchanan recommends getting a set of walking poles. The poles will help improve balance, she says, as well as strengthening the torso.
Focus on functional fitness, maintaining the skills necessary to stay independent, experts say.
"Everyday living is what we try to coordinate our exercises to," Marsh says.
"You're sitting down, standing up, putting stuff on a shelf."
Some people prefer exercising at home. Others prefer the structure and camaraderie of a group.
"The best workout for you is the one you will do," Buchanan says.
Just make sure, though, that the exercise is an intentional, structured kind, not just normal, day-to-day activities.
"Older people, they often confuse busy with active," she says. "The busy-ness of their lives makes them tired, and they feel like they don't need to exercise.
That tired is totally different than truly physical tiredness."
Saunders, a retired postman, credits some of his good health to climbing steps and walking as part of his job for so many years. But he has stayed active by working out at the YMCA three days a week and by participating in a traveling singing group.
"I've been one to exercise, even when I was in my teens," he says from the stationary bike at the Y. "I was a small guy, so I wanted to be strong."
For other seniors, he says simply: "Just come down here and join us. You just want to keep active."
Copyright (c) 2006, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News. For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.