Seniors on the go stay sharp

Publish Date:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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News Organization:

Chicago Tribune

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Marilyn Gregory is practicing to compete in a tournament using Nintendo's popular Wii video gaming system. Just last month, she started writing for a blog. She regularly exercises and likes to make jewelry and play games such as table bowling.

For an 83-year-old in an assisted-living facility, Gregory stays pretty active.

"Exercise every day keeps the doctor away, that's what I like to say," said Gregory, who lives in the Barton Senior Residences on the west side of Chicago. "I'm in the activity room all the time."

Doctors once cautioned seniors against exercise, concerned that such activity could lead to broken bones and other medical problems. But geriatric specialists and other experts today recommend seniors exercise and do other activities to maintain their flexibility and hone their cognitive skills, said Dr. Susan Hughes, a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

"The news continues to be so positive on so many fronts and for so many people with so many conditions, that the benefits so far outweigh the few, if any, untoward events," said Hughes, who also is the co-director for the school's Center for Research on Health and Aging.

The best senior exercise programming combines aerobic activity with modest strength training and flexibility exercise, Hughes said. Such activity helps improve residents' health while helping to maintain seniors' independence, Hughes said.

That's what assisted-living facilities can offer.

Many senior citizens may have health issues but don't require around-the-clock care and supervision as a nursing home might provide, said Barton marketing director Arnie Kanter. But if they need help with some ailments, doing chores or keeping track of medications, assisted-living facilities are a good option, he said.

The type of facility the senior goes to also depends on what he or she can afford, said Kanter. Barton houses residents 65 and older with assets of less than $2,000, he said.

At Sunrise Assisted Living in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, residents can take senior-friendly yoga and tai chi classes as part of the facility's daily exercise offerings, said Shantel Mitchell Cooley, director of community relations.

"Nobody likes to give up their independence," Mitchell Cooley said. "Exercise helps them maintain their independence and improve their balance."

Research has shown that cardiovascular activity is directly related to cognitive health, said Hughes, of UIC.

"To the extent that exercise helps with physical health, there's also a spillover in maintaining your brain," Hughes said. "It's such a win-win kind of situation."

Other activities—even if they aren't physically challenging—may help seniors' mental health by getting them out of their apartments and interacting with others, Hughes said.

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