experts

The daily sweat

Getting active every day can feel like a bit too much to ask for… Which is why Cindy Tilney’s asked the experts to give us easy ways to keep fit – no matter how old you are!

We all know exercise is good for us, but exercising to the max – especially in later life – can be too much of a good thing. It’s essential not to stress the body by exercising too hard, says Professor Wayne Derman, the Director of the U-Turn Chronic Disease Lifestyle Rehabilitation Programme based at the UCT Sports Science Institute of South Africa. “When planning an exercise routine, it’s important to consider any medical condition you might have, as well as any medication you’re taking and how it may affect you while exercising,” says Prof. Derman.

Older age also comes with a bigger chance of aches and pains because of problems like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – if these names ring a bell, it’s a good idea to be more careful about the kind of exercise you choose, and to consult a medical professional (a biokineticist, physiotherapist or sports physician) when planning an exercise routine. Be sure to check if any medications you are on will interfere with this routine, reminds Prof. Derman.

Be informed

“It’s essential to go for a health check and orthopaedic assessment before starting any exercise programme,” says biokineticist, Sarah Hall.

Get checked for:

  • Cardiac weakness
  • Any existing injuries
  • High blood pressure
  • Ischaemia (restriction in blood supply)
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Also be aware that falls are more likely if your balance isn’t what it used to be.

Warning signs:

The right kind of exercise has benefits for every chronic condition, says Prof. Derman.  But watch out for:

  • Feeling breathless to the point that you can’t talk when exercising
  • Any pain.

“The saying ‘no pain no gain’ is not true,” he says. “Your body should be in a state of relative comfort while exercising.”

So what should you do?

It’s important to include all of these steps in an optimal exercise programme, as they all have different functions, say Derman and Hall. These include:

  1. The warm up: This involves stretching and preparing your body for exercise.
  2. Flexibility training/stretching: This focuses on increasing the range of motion of the joints and stretching the body to release tension in the major muscle groups – calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, back, chest and arms.
  3. The aerobic phase: Involves movement of the large muscle groups to increase the heart rate. It can be walking, jogging, cycling, aqua aerobics or rowing, for example.
  4. Muscle strength resistance training: Using elastic bands or circuit training to make muscles stronger. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as it can help the muscles involved in the absorption of insulin to become more sensitive, which helps blood sugar control.
  5. Stability training: Exercises like plank position that help balance and core stability.
  6. The cool down: This involves stretching and relaxation to allow the heart rate to go back to normal and the body to return to a resting state.

Remember: The goal is to exercise 20 to 30 minutes on most days of the week.

3 Top tips for people with diabetes:

  1. Don’t begin exercising if your blood sugar is either too high or too low (over 16 or below 4.8).
  2. If you are using insulin, always take something sweet with you when you exercise, in case of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
  3. Avoid injecting into large muscle groups just before exercising.

What kind of exercise is best for older people with diabetes?

We asked biokineticist Sarah Hall to give us a sample exercise routine. Here’s what she said:

Warm up: 5-10 minute brisk walk

Stretch: Standing calf and quad stretch, chest, shoulder and bicep stretch, lying down hamstring stretch and cat stretch for the back

Aerobic: Step for 2 minutes

Muscle strength: Like bicep curls, wall push-ups and abdominal crunches (sit-ups)

Aerobic: Walk or jog on the spot for 2 minutes

Stability: Plank position

Cool down: Repeat stretches