Rules of successful aging | VailDaily.com

Rules of successful aging

Ryan Richards
Make It Count

We're doing really well staying alive in the Vail Valley.

According to a recent report published last year by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Eagle County has the third highest life expectancy of any county in the U.S., with an average lifespan of 85.9 years. The study found nearby Summit and Pitkin Counties to have life expectancies of 86.8 and 86.5 years, respectively. Given the robust lifespan we experience, I thought it would be helpful to share some insight on how to maximize the quality of the long years ahead.

General physical fitness is certainly important for longevity, but the evidence isn't overwhelming that fitness alone keeps you alive longer. However, I'm certain that physical fitness is largely responsible for improving the quality of life for all individuals, regardless of age.

Here's what you need to know.

MOBILITY AND STRENGTH

It's difficult to assume the specific needs for all aging individuals because too many variables must be considered in the quest for fitness. For example, I coach several adults in their 60s who maintain zero limitations, and thrive on many different fitness approaches. On the other hand, the techniques I use vary for others in their golden years who have injuries, past surgeries or limitations based on a poor training history.

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In general, most older women should prioritize strength training and aging men would benefit from stretching more. I've seen too many women who lack the basic strength to stand up from the floor, or worse, cannot even stand from a seated position in a chair. Many older men are so stiff, they don't even have the range of motion to sit down in the first place.

Try these tests to screen your baseline. First, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold your arms straight above you reaching for the ceiling. Keeping your elbows locked out, and your upper arms aligned with your ears, squat down as deep as you can. You must keep your arms tall, feet completely flat on the ground, and your thighs should at minimum, reach parallel to the floor. Can't do this? You have mobility limitations. Second, lie down on the floor, and stand up tall. If you cannot perform this repeatedly for 5 repetitions in under 30 seconds, then you've got a basic strength problem, or potentially a serious mobility issue.

While we're on the discussion of mobility and strength, there are specific muscle groups that tend to stiffen as we age and other muscles that weaken over time. The muscles of the chest, back of the legs and front of the hips often stiffen in the aging process; it's a good idea to stretch these areas frequently. The muscles in your rear end, upper back, stomach, shoulders and back of the arms often weaken as we age, and must be strengthened. Great exercises for targeting the problem areas are the push-up, plank, deadlift variations and rowing exercises.

DON'T SKIP MEALS

Finally, keep your bodyweight up. There is substantial evidence that people who are moderately overweight live as long as those who are a "healthy" weight. Clinically obese, or people who are underweight have a lower life expectancy. The research echoes my experience; people who are slightly larger seem to find an extra gear when moving around, or recreating in the mountains. Larger muscles are associated with increased strength which is the most basic, and general of the fitness qualities that determines your movement relationship with the natural environment. The bigger and stronger you are, determines how easily you can get up from the floor, climb stairs and not get hurt when you slip on the ice. To maintain or increase muscle size, keep the weights moderately heavy for repetitions in the 8–10 range and don't skip meals.

In summary, stretch what's tight, strengthen what's weak and keep your body weight up. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards is a fitness professional who has been keeping the Vail Valley strong for over a decade. You can find him at ryanrichards.com or 970-401-0720.