Health: You are as Healthy as You Think You Are - Exercise for Seniors

by Teenaz Javat

The alarm goes off at 5 a.m., and just as CBC Radio’s World Report kicks in, so does a day in the life of Sillo Boman Kotwal.

A long-time resident of Mississauga, Ontario, and grandmother of three, she prefers to begin her day early.

Having lived 37 of her 72 years in Canada, Kotwal, a native of Dar-e-Salem, Tanzania, made her way to Canada via the United Kingdom. She is one hardy soul, evident from the fact that she moved through three continents before making her home in the Greater Toronto Area. She likes to live life to the fullest, as although her tread may be slow, her zest for life only seems to have increased with age.

Kotwal worked in several jobs, the last one being the home-based Wee Watch child care program. So when faced with retirement, seven years ago, she wanted to find a way to get busy once again.

“I firmly believe you are as old as you think. It is all in the mind and if you can keep your mind active, your body will follow suit,” she says.

There are many ways seniors, most of whom are on a fixed income, can stay healthy. They do not need to join expensive gyms, as most of the activities mentioned here are located within their own community and are accessible either by public transit or the Wheel Trans service available to those with either a disability or who are confined to a wheel chair.

Here are a few low impact exercises which seniors can do to remain healthy.

  • Mall Walkers
  • Tai-chi
  • Aquafitness
  • Yoga

Mall Walkers

I accompany Kotwal to the Erin Mills Town Centre in the early morning and am surprised to see a group of 50 to 60 seniors briskly walking along a designated route. Towels and water bottles slung over their shoulders, their intent is not to talk with each other, but to walk as much and as fast as they possibly can.

A bright green button assigned by the mall, is attached to their walking shoe. Each button has a number, which if punched into the computer reveals details regarding the person like medical/health details and emergency contact.

As we move to the upper level of the mall I see yet another group working out to music. It’s only 9 am and they are winding down for the day. They are led by Carolyn Rumley, for whom it seems like just another school day. Rumley a former physical education teacher and ex-principal, conducts the Mall Walkers program that is run by the City of Mississauga’s Recreation and Parks Services.

The group of up to 60 people, most of whom are seniors, meet three days a week from 8 am to 9 am. “We start with a 15-minute warm-up which includes mild cardio, followed by a 30-minute walk in the mall. We wind up with another 15 minutes of resistance training set to music,” says Rumley who taught phys-ed for 47 years before retiring. It is an extremely affordable health benefit and is geared to work the joints. “If their joints are working then their muscles work too,” she adds. Mall Walkers is held in some malls across the GTA and all locations are accessible to transit. In fact Rumley notices she has more members joining in during the winter months when walking outside is not an option.

The Mall Walkers program can be found in the Active Mississauga guide or online at www.mississauga.ca/rec&parks or your local community centre.

Tai-chi

As I step away from the Mall Walkers, I glimpse a sea of red and green moving in tandem with one another. Coming closer, I notice women in green pants and white t-shirts holding a large blood-red fan, performing a dance-like ritual. Not even one person is off-beat.

It’s as if they are in a forest with a brook bubbling nearby. They are doing Tai-chi under the skylight, beside two large trees that dot the landscape inside the mall. Their location seems as close to nature as possible, except that it is all indoors.

The group meets every day from 8.30 am to 10 am with a 15-minute water break. It is during that water break that I met Mrs. Chen who leads the dance. “What we are doing here is the Yuan-ji dance. It is a martial dance set to music and light. It is low impact, and encourages flexibility of the smaller joints.”

Chen has been teaching this version of Tai-chi for many years. “The stretching and slow movement is especially good for seniors as it helps keep their muscles toned. We try and move at a comfortable level as the dance is basically a comfort dance.”

As for the Kung-fu fan, it is used as an aid, as the music is set to themes of water, flowers, wind and the weather. “The Yuan-ji dance form harmonizes the physical and psychological aspect of self-healing, which is basically what we are promoting here. If the mind and body move together then that person will remain healthy forever,” adds Chen. For more information visit www.yuanji.ca

Aquafitness

Aquafitness is a series of water exercises which keeps you fit with no-impact whatsoever on the joints. It is becoming increasingly popular with seniors and classes are offered at most community centres having indoor pools.

Armaity Anandasagar, a certified instructor, has been teaching aquafitness across Peel region for several years. As an immigrant to Canada, Anandasagar who came here from Brazil, has been involved with water therapy since 1996. “This form of exercise keeps you fi t without eroding your joints, especially if you perform the movements in the deep-end of the pool. It helps with people who have or are going in for either knee or hip replacements, or any form of therapy as it keeps the muscles working and bones healthy.”

Once you are in the water you are using your muscles to balance yourself, that itself is a good work out. It builds bone mass and prevents osteoporosis. For more information visit the Toronto Fun Guide at www.toronto.ca/ parks or www.mississauga.ca/rec&parks or your local community centre.

Yoga

When you hear “Yoga”, you immediately imagine obscure postures, maybe a person standing on his/her head. But yoga geared to seniors is as easy as sitting in a chair and taking charge of your breathing.

That is what I witnessed when I entered the freshly painted, sunlit hall of the Ontario Zoroastrian Community Foundation located on a ten-acre plot in windswept North Oakville. It is here that about 25 seniors from the community meet every Tuesday morning for a session on Pranayam yoga taught by Zubin Dotiwalla.

Dotiwalla started practising yoga two years ago, after undergoing a heart bypass. “The benefit to me was so great, that I decided that I must pass it on to as many people as possible.” He volunteers his service, teaching them the art of breathing right.

“We lose out on a lot of vital energy when we simply breathe through the mouth, and most seniors breathe shallow. I teach them to take fuller and deeper breaths, as when you take in more oxygen through your lungs, your organs benefit as it is proved that when organs are deprived of oxygen they degenerate,” he adds.

In addition to deep breathing, the seniors are taught micro exercises like flexing their ankles, neck and head muscles. “We concentrate on moving muscles above the waist as several seniors have trouble moving their lower bodies,” he says.

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