Exercising for healthy aging is for fun now, benefit later

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The Fox, DuPage and other watercourses and even some park district ponds and lakes allow plenty of opportunity to enjoy a day on the water and get some exercise. Local shops sell the gear and even provide some basic instruction, and at www.illinoispaddlin

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At the age of 18, Jim Fatz joined the U.S. Army and jumped out of airplanes as part of an air-mobile, criminal investigation unit.

He later worked as a hostage negotiator, swat team commander, licensed clinical professional counselor, certified alcohol and drug dependency counselor, and a psychologist for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

During his forties, he started to have back and joint issues. He had migraine headaches on a monthly basis.

“I was a prime example of someone who had stressors stuck in my body,” he said. “I found a way to release that stress. In the last eight years, I have only had two or three migraines. At age 57, I’m in better shape now than I was before.”

Jim discovered what so-called “healthy” people do not often think about, that making exercise part of your lifestyle now is an investment in better health and a more active life later.

Just 30 percent of people between ages 45 and 64 say they engage in regular leisure-time physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Interview Survey. As people get older, they move even less: 25 percent are active between the ages 65 and 74 and only 11 percent of those 85 and older say they are active.

That’s a problem because studies indicate there’s a correlation between activity and a lower death rate in older adults.

Exercising for healthy aging

“Healthy aging is the ability to maintain your mental, physical and cellular health,” said Jason Stella, a personal trainer at Life Time Fitness, with locations in 22 states including Illinois. “The process of aging is inevitable, but the choices you make, good or bad, throughout your lifetime dictate the rate at which you will age and the positive or negative health affects you develop.”

Since age 60 has apparently become the “new” 50, people are carrying a full workload and “younger” lifestyle for more years before actual retirement. People are also living longer, so the question becomes how active is that longer life going to be.

Jim shed the stressors, got in shape and learned a great deal about healthy aging along the way. In fact, he and wife Lori own the Center for Integrative BodyWork in Sycamore, offering yoga, Reiki, massage, bodywork and meditation. Lori said Reiki is “a Japanese meditation technique in which the practitioner helps the client to relax, thus promoting self-healing.”

For example, maintaining good balance is important, and there are many yoga positions that put the body in balance and reinforce good posture.

Jim also said a point to remember about exercising for healthy aging is that, as people age, they tend to limit activity. That means they tend to gain weight, which makes it harder to be active.

The combination is “a vicious cycle and a deteriorating one,” he said.

Exercising for healthy aging can take many forms: walking, jogging and in-home exercise routines are a few. Most are inexpensive. Others involve more expense but combine exercise with more recreation: bicycling, canoeing, golf, gardening, swimming and tennis are a few. The region is blessed with several rivers, a vast network of forest preserve bike-and-hike trails, and a plethora of more formal means to recreational exercise.

Just get on-line and search for your town name and “park district.” The list of activities is long, and includes some unique approaches.

Dancing to a healthier tune

For the first time, the Lisle Park District is offering a walking club, said Debbie Breihan, the district’s senior citizen in-house coordinator. Participants walk one to three miles.

Other senior programs include Aquasize swimming classes, meditation, and a class for improving strength and bone density. A free group activity, known as Brain Gang, involved mind exercises. It was popular this year, and it will be held again in September, said Breihan.

Regina Rahman, a certified Zumba instructor with the Fox Valley Park District, teaches “Zumba Gold for 50 & Better” at the Prisco Fitness Center in Aurora. She has been teaching Zumba for the past four years.

“Zumba is Latin dance fitness,” Rahman said. “Zumba Gold is specifically designed so seniors can tango, salsa, merengue, and cumbia, but not at the same intensity level. The class is choreographed to music, so it’s more dance than exercise. Everyone leaves the class sweating and in a good mood.”

Rev. David and Lynda Carr also teach at Prisco. He teaches “Taiji Quan (Tai Chi) for 55 & Better.” She teaches “Exercise for Ages 55 & Better.”

“There are three different aspects for healthy aging,” David said. “Lynda teaches aerobics and muscle toning. Taiji emphasizes deep abdominal breathing and slow, deliberate motion. Deep breathing helps to maintain the immune system. You can get as much or as little as you want out of it.”

“It’s important to just keep moving for the sake of your muscles, bones and cardio health,” Lynda said.

“It might seem easier to have someone else fix it, but people have more lasting results when they take ownership of their own body,” Lori Fatz said.

-- ARAContent also contributed to this article