For older adults, fitness is freedom, experts say

Mon May 2, 2011 3:53pm EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As 70 million-plus baby boomers roll relentlessly into their retirement years, experts say for those 65 and over staying active and fit can spell the difference between independence and frailty.

"It's all about moving." said Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine. "The phrase 'use it or lose it' works here."

There is no physiological reason we lose significant muscle mass, strength and mobility as we age, Pire said, other than that we tend to move less.

The good news is it's never too late to set that body in motion.

"Eighty- and ninety-year olds have demonstrated the ability to gain lean body mass, as well as to improve strength and balance by exercising," he explained. "The trick is to start at a place that makes sense and progress slowly."

By focusing on function, balance and mobility, Pire said popular activities like yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates can enhance the aging body's ability to perform the tasks of daily living.

"There is plenty for seniors to pick from in your average health club," he said.

The Silver Sneakers Fitness Program brings yoga, Pilates, aquatic and cardio circuit classes to older Americans at 10,000 locations in 50 states.   Continued...

<p>A man stretches himself during a morning exercise session at a park in Beijing June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Grace Liang</p>