Golden years’ silver lining
By D.J. Wanberg For Sun-Times Media
Senior Couple Exercising In Park
Where in your area do seniors choose to live? The 2010 census reports the following percentage of total population within these communities who are 65 and older:
Oak Lawn: 18%
Oak Park: 10.7%
Orland Park: 19.1%
Tinley Park: 13.3%
U.S. Census Bureau
As much as people have tried over the course of civilization to find a way to impede Father Time, the aging process can’t be stopped. Getter older is a fact of life.
But it is possible that today’s seniors are living better than a couple hundred years ago. Is age 60 the new 50?
Talk to experts who study aging and the answer is yes and no. They stress many factors will influence how smooth the aging process will be for baby boomers and subsequent generations.
‘Young older person’
Dr. Rebecca Wojcik, associate professor and physical therapy department chairman at Governors State University in University Park, whose work and research emphasizes geriatrics and aging, said the baby boomers aren’t really considered old.
“Sixty is not considered old age in an academic setting or clinical setting. Even 65 is a young older person,” she said. “And I think that’s also reflected in the retirement age gradually creeping up because of Social Security.”
Geriatrician Dr. Cheryl Woodson, who directs the Woodson Center for Adult Healthcare in Chicago Heights, said that those turning 60 set trends when they were younger and will continue to do so as they age. Woodson also suggests that this age group has a more tenacious posture about aging than previous generations.
“Why would they decide that when they hit 60, they’re going to sit down? They’re still doing what they were doing at 50,” she said.
Dr. Susan Hughes, a professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-director of UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy — Center for Research on Health and Aging, says education, physical activity, quality of health care and even how communities are designed are just some of the factors that play into how this particular age bracket will grow older.
“This age group tends to have educational advantages and will have a better quality of life as medical and technical advantages improve the quality of life for substantial numbers,” she said.
Impact of exercise
Joyce Sligar, a physical therapy instructor and co-director of clinical education at Governors State University, said the baby boomer generation will age better because of how many of them value fitness and exercise. But there’s still room for improvment.
“Based on my experience, people in their 50s and 60s with heart disease, vascular disease, strokes, you aren’t seeing that as much,” she said. “But we could do a whole lot better.”
Woodson teaches her patients the importance of physical fitness and exercise.
“The data shows that if you are fit, problems with aging don’t happen especially with heart and blood vessels,” she said.
Hughes stresses that the rise of obesity in the United States is capable of bringing down the quality of life for baby boomers and the generations that are following them.
“The level of obesity among middle age adults is definitely a cloud on the horizon,” Hughes said.
Much of Hughes’ work deals with the relationship between exercise and aging.
She cited statistics that state just 31 percent of people ages 60 to 64 engage in at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise three or more days a week. That number goes down to 16 percent when talking about more vigorous exercise five days a week.
The effects of exercise on an older person were evident in Fit and Strong, a program designed by Hughes. The eight-week physical activity/behavior change program focused on older adults with arthritis.
“Exercise is important for cardiovascular health, but strength training is huge for older people and can help prevent falls and their related injuries,” she said.
Wojcik said it’s important for older people to realize there are lots of different types of physical activity and that they are not confined to one type.
“With a lot of people, there’s a stigma with exercise. They assume it has to be with a group or they have to go somewhere expensive to do it. There are the same benefits with other activities,” she said.
Woodson advises people who are 60 to get a shingles vaccine if they’ve had chicken pox to avoid the pain and discomfort of that disease. And if they are sexually active, she reminds them to practice safe sex. She said age 60 and over is one of the fastest-growing groups for developing HIV.
Also don’t underestimate the importance of staying mentally fit.
“And with your brain, (you) use it or lose it,” she said.