“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” declared Bette Davis, once upon a time. I would have to agree with the first lady of the American screen about the formidable rigors of ageing. This final stage of the human condition is to become even more uncomfortable as the demands for baby boomers and their offspring to extend their working lives, increase. The age of retirement is predicted to rise to 70 years.
Many older Australians do not have access to bountiful super funds and now face the work challenge for many more years. And that’s if there are jobs for them to do. Unemployment is rising and employers aren’t too keen on hiring ageing people. Then there’s the unrealistic expectation that workers such as nurses who have been doing heavy work all their lives continue until they are 70 years-old.
One thing is clear we need to keep ourselves fit and well.
Rick Taranto knows well the benefits of regular exercise and fitness for the over 50s. The gym instructor and personal trainer says: “Most people think that gym is just for weight lifting or weight loss, but there’s another important element that’s to do with your inner health, such as the benefits of weight training for blood pressure and blood sugar control.” Taranto stresses that gym work regulates these vital bodily functions, and keeps us healthy longer into our senior years. The long-time gym enthusiast practices what he preaches and while the rest of us soak up the sun, wine and dine, and otherwise amuse ourselves, on weekends he’ll be working out, anxious to maintain the fitness that was eagerly sought, and diligently acquired over the last 40 years, while being involved in the health and fitness industry. “Interestingly, the growth in the industry is in the under 18s and the over 50s” Taranto says.
The fitness centre of the 21st century is a modern day health club and vastly different to the gymnasiums of the 1950s where lifting weights was regarded as rather odd behaviour. Equipped with just a few basics such as a lat pull-down, a leg extension device, a vertical leg press, and maybe a couple of basic wall pulley arrangements, gyms were primarily the terrain of muscle-bound bodybuilders. Gyms of today’s world are part of a multi-billion dollar industry embraced by a demographic, spanning teens to seniors who are chasing fitness, weight-loss, and the odd tip on nutrition and stress-reduction.
When you sign up as a member of the gym you are encouraged to work out at least three times a week commencing each session with an aerobic exercise such as the treadmill or the stationary bike. This aerobic activity promotes efficient oxygen usage in the muscles and improves the function of vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Once the body is well oxygenated it’s time for strength or resistance training, whereby lifting with appropriate weights, muscles are strengthened, reducing the risk of injuries, a common hazard for the elderly.
For the ageing among us, weight training and exercise in general have the added bonus of stimulating brain function; a welcome change from the endless crosswords dutifully completed as we seek to prevent the dreaded dementia. I’m 64 and three times a week doggedly, yet reservedly, I too make my way to the local gym; sneakers afoot and water bottle in hand. At the gym I meet Colleen, an indomitable 80-year-old and a fine example of the benefits of exercise and resistance training, having recently undergone a successful shoulder replacement. “I try to get here three times a week, love,” says Colleen, in between her restorative breaths. “I’ve been coming here for over 30 years and hope to be here for a few more. I’m still fit and healthy and I’m sure it’s the gym work.”
As I work out, I cast my eye in the direction of a middle-aged, rather obese man who is sweating it out on the bike. I become concerned when suddenly he clutches his chest. Little beads of perspiration are forming all over his balding head and dripping down onto his ample cheeks. Even as the colour fades from his face, he shows no sign of stopping. For that matter, neither do the baby boomers as they struggle to keep working.
“Work until you drop” is the new reality.