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At the first White House Conference on Aging in 1961 Robert Kennedy said, “We have added years to life; it is time we added life to years”.
Some would say increased longevity is the success story of our time. In 1900 a baby born would not expect to live beyond 50 years. In many countries now, life expectancy has risen to more than 70 years. In New Zealand the average life expectancy is 81.46 years. The population of Hawke’s Bay is older than the national average with 16.8% of people being aged 65 and over, compared to 14.3% of the total population.
Combined with declining fertility rates, the global population of those over 60 years is destined to outnumber those under 5 years by 2020 … for the first time in recorded human history. Any success story is not without its opportunities and challenges. Notably the largest challenges that face our over-65s are to be found in the areas of health and wealth.
Current trends show that cardiovascular and respiratory diseases are stabilising while musculoskeletal disorders and poor mental health are rising rapidly. Musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of disability, effecting 1 in 4 adults. Each year 8,700 New Zealanders receive primary knee and hip replacements; 77% of patients are over the age of 60. The New Zealand Orthopaedic Association predicts this number will double by 2026.
Unfortunately, many people live with chronic pain, facing long hospital waiting lists, and are unable to live active, healthy lives.
Losing independence through the loss of mobility can lead to depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation and loneliness. Age Concern New Zealand published research that showed around half of older New Zealanders experience some level of loneliness. Lack of meaningful social interaction results in physiological processes that harm the immune system. Health professionals have described loneliness as ‘biologically toxic’ and is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Feelings of isolation have been highlighted as a cause of premature death and early admittance to nursing homes.
To maintain a healthy quality of life, which could extend well into your 80s or 90s, it is beneficial to slow down the progression of functional decline and remain active for as long as possible. There is strong evidence to show increased physical activity delays the effects of aging. Exercise has also been shown to help with many different aspects of psychological wellbeing, from anxiety relief to improved creativity. Meaningful activity is recommended for healthy adults, as well as those with chronic health problems.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults 65 years and older should be participating in, at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity. Adults with poor mobility should do balance exercises to prevent falls on three or more days a week, and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
It can be hard to change behaviour and get oneself into a committed, healthier routine that includes exercise. Encouragingly, Hawke’s Bay has a lot to offer folks that need a reassuring and supportive hand.
Sport Hawke’s Bay active recreation team leader Eana Young is passionate about keeping those in their senior years in good shape. She says, “Everyone can benefit from physical activity, even in small amounts. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week will put a bounce back into your life.”
Young leads Sport Hawkes Bay’s ‘Active 4 Life’ programme and ‘Kiwi Seniors’, which consist of specifically tailored fitness programmes and social exercise groups for older adults across Hawke’s Bay.
She continues, “There is a general awareness in the community of how important good living is. We are seeing increased participation in all our classes and our Kiwi Seniors club is thriving. Our participants create strong friendships while improving their physical health. Many enjoy the cup of tea or coffee after the class as much as the activity itself!
“Encouragingly, people in Hawke’s Bay are being physically active more often. Our greatest challenge is to get new people involved in the programmes, particularly men. We are trying to develop programmes that men would enjoy. We pride ourselves on being sensitive to people’s needs and understand for many the first hurdle is knowing they can physically do the activities. We have qualified, experienced instructors and all our programmes are accredited under the nation-wide Community Strength and Balance initiative.”
Sport Hawke’s Bay is connected across the community and actively supports ‘grass roots’ exercise groups that literally spring up from a few enthusiastic individuals.
For example, the ‘Recycled Rebels’, a cycling group, was started in 2005 in Napier by three retired men who decided to ride together each Wednesday morning. Recycled Rebels has grown its active member base to an impressive 27 with ages spanning from 65 to 82 years. The popularity of the group grew to such an extent another group was created in Havelock North. This group now boasts 20 members, and a waiting list! The key characteristics of this group and other grass roots exercise groups in the area are fun, fitness and friendship.
Eana adds, “Hawke’s Bay is a metropolis of opportunity when it comes to physical activity. People can walk, swim, cycle or attend structured classes with a qualified instructor. They can exercise on their own or as part of a group. If balance or high impact exercise is difficult for you, many swimming pools in Hawke’s Bay offer aqua-aerobics classes. It’s about finding what suits you as an individual. I have a great respect for all that walk through my door and if Sport Hawke’s Bay can’t offer what you need, myself or a member of my team will direct you to someone who can. It’s just about taking that first step.”
Life is for living. Many see the later years of life as a gift. It’s when you can kick back and value what’s important. If remaining physically active allows you to experience the silver years with purpose and fulfilment, surely it’s worth a little effort.