Staying active into your senior years

Story and photo by Evan Frank

  • Watch a slide show on how Jane and Lowell Frank stay active.

Staying active for some people can be a difficult task. Remaining energetic into your 60s and beyond can be a lot more difficult.

“We’re beat,” Jane Frank said shortly after coming into her home. “We were raking leaves all day.”

Lowell Frank chops wood in the yard during the early morning.

Jane, 79, has worked part-time cleaning homes for three days a week for the past 15 years. She said iit may be about time to retire, though.

Her husband, Lowell, 80, keeps busy with several different activities. When he was in his 60s, he was an avid sailor with his wife. They participated in a race two or three times a week and once every weekend.

“It kept us physically active and mentally sharp,” he said.

In addition to burning leaves, mowing the lawn and trimming trees, Lowell now stays active by going to the local airport and tending to his plane. When his sailing days came to a close, he became more interested in flying. Keeping an airplane has kept him busy for over 20 years.

“You have to tie down the plane so it doesn’t get away from you,” he said. “I wipe it all down before I go out, then clean it up again when I’m done.”

Keeping active, according to Jane, is important at this point in their lives. But there are other things necessary to staying active.

“It’s what you do at the beginning of your life that’s the most important, rather than later on,” Jane said.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2006, the leading cause of death for adults 65 years and older was heart disease. Heart disease is just one of many problems older adults have to worry about.

The Salt Lake County Healthy Aging Program helps people who are 60 years or older have healthier lifestyles. Michaelene Waters, a health educator for the Healthy Aging Program, said there is an enhanced fitness class offered to older adults. Most of the programs are held between two and three days a week. Waters says the purpose is for elderly people to be “able to do things better in life.”

“There’s good feedback from the classes,” Waters said. “Doctors are pleased and seeing improvements.”

The program consists of a warm-up focusing on one’s balance. Strength training with weights is another important part of the program. During this section, the class works on major muscle groups, including deltoids, triceps and biceps. Average weights consist of three pounds with no weights being heavier than five pounds. Staying at a level that helps seniors maintain their heartbeat is part of the endurance section.

Before a senior can participate in the class, permission from a doctor is required.

Though the minimum age requirement is 60 years old, Waters says the average age of participants is around 75.

“The social aspects of the class are important as well,” Waters said. Having the seniors stay socially active can help improve their mental and emotional health, she added.

Seniors aren’t the only ones who enjoy interacting with each other. “One of the instructors likes to end on a joke,” Waters said.

Lowell and Jane have been married more than 50 years and continue to keep their acre and a half of land in good condition.

“Our company holds one-hour presentations at local senior center or churches,” said Kathy Hoenig, a health educator at the Healthy Aging Program.

Topics such as healthy eating and being prepared for winter are covered during the presentations.

However, one of the most important parts of the presentation is fall prevention. According to the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, falls can result in hip fractures, head injuries or even death.

A Colorado State University study showed that falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 or over. The organization was established to help improve practice and develop sustainable fall prevention programs. Approximately 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls each year.

According to the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, an elderly person is more likely to fall if they are 80 years or older, or if they have previously fallen. Fear in not wanting to fall again can cause an individual to stay away from physical activity.

A workshop designed for healthy living with chronic conditions is also offered at the Healthy Aging Program. Hoenig said the workshop is six weeks long and offered to people who live with any long-term health problems such as asthma, arthritis and pains.

“It gives people strategies and the tools to help them positively manage their health problems and conditions,” Hoenig said. “In the fall, flu clinics for senior centers are offered.”

There are also medicine checks where pharmacy students will meet individually with seniors.

During the session, the seniors can ask questions about their medications, as well as have their medications looked at and checked if they are current or expired.

Taking information classes can help keep seniors aware of certain health risks.

Spreading the word out to seniors is critical in making sure people know what options are available. The Healthy Aging Program advertises on radio and television and in newspapers, local valley journals and even in the doctor’s office.

Whether it’s raking leaves in your backyard or attending classes at the Healthy Aging Program, there are a number of ways to stay active and fit.