This article by Col Rajiv Ahlawat was first published by ' Samman Magazine ' and published by MVI with due permission of author and Directorate of Indian Army Veterans ( DIAV) .
'Active Aging Of Army Veterans' is a subject that concerns not only Indian Army Veterans but all Indians who want to remain active (both physically and mentally) not only during service but post retirement too.
The article will surely benefit those who read it and follow what the author advocates both in letter and spirit.
Kindly read and circulate.
The benefits of regular physical activity (i.e. sport, exercise, and recreation) for physical fitness and good health (physical and mental) are well-known. Army personnel are generally more physically active while in service than civilians; however, the transition to life as a veteran is characterized by a steep drop in physical activity which may result in a sharp rise in obesity and related health conditions impacting their holistic well-being. The new normal COVID regime has forced people to stay indoors, resulting in psychological and health/fitness challenges for all sections of society. While financial and health support systems are priorities for veteran cells, the need of promoting active ageing through regular physical activity of veterans is a facet which needs to be initiated for their wellbeing during the retirement years. The article aims to increase awareness of the veteran community in the approach to active ageing.
Affects of Ageing
Humans can lose about 10% of muscle mass (called Sarcopenia) per decade after the age of 30 years1 . As a result of loss of muscle mass in sedentary adults over the age of 50 years, strength and power reduces greatly. Normally, adults who are sedentary beyond age 50 can expect muscle loss of up to 0.4 pounds a year. Reduced functional strength can make it more challenging to perform common activities of daily life (ADL). Loss of tissue extensibility or flexibility and loss of bone mineral density (BMD) increases risk of fractures in accidental falls.
Aerobic efficiency or the ability to use oxygen to fuel physical activity, can decline at a rate of 10% per decade after the age of 30 years due to reduction in maximum heart rate and cardiac output. With advancing age, the heart must work harder to accomplish the same amount of work, both at rest and during activity. Resting heart rate also declines at a rate of one beat per minute each year2 . Similarly, the lungs lose some of their ability to supply adequate amounts of oxygen to the working tissues and organ systems.
There is a direct link between sedentary lifestyle and onset of memory loss or impaired cognitive function. No one is immune to changes in the brain, but exercise and physical activity (along with proper diet) significantly slows the rate of cognitive dysfunction. So, what’s good for the heart, is also good for the brain.
Accidental falls are among the leading causes of death for the 65+ population. Individuals who experience deficits in balance performance increase their risk of falling and sustaining an injury. As we age, certain physiological systems begin to decline, which can greatly influence the ability to maintain adequate postural control or balance. Age-related declines in the vestibular (inner ear), visual, musculoskeletal and central nervous system, as well as orthopedic issues and cognitive impairments, all contribute to a deterioration in balance3 . In steady-state balance, such as quiet standing, compared to young adults, older adults activate up to three times more muscle to maintain their balance4 .
5. Muscle Imbalances
Renowned physical therapist Gray Cook often reminds us that the the biggest precursors of injury are asymmetries and previous injury. Muscle imbalances due to years of a particular activity (active tennis player), past injuries or habitual preferences and unique postures, result in muscle imbalances in the body which get pronounced as one get’s older and is often the cause of most nagging pains resulting in discomfort. In the bicycle analogy, if one of your arms was slightly shorter or stronger than the other, the effort required to cycle would be more.
Important Guidelines for Veteran Fitness and Active Ageing.
The physiological systems of the human body are similar to a car’s. With the proper fuel (nutrition), maintenance and operation, it’s possible to have a long, healthy and vibrant life full of enjoyable physical activity. Doing too much of one type of activity or exercise is the biggest mistake that most people do. Older-adult exercise programs should not be underpowered, low-intensity, non-weight bearing interventions . Rather, exercise programs for older adults should be appropriately challenging, multicomponent offerings tailored to unique individual needs and focused on cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular training, flexibility and balance, the same components included in exercise programs for people of any age.
- Self Assessment
A “one-size-fits-all” approach to exercise is not an effective approach for the older adults. Each individual is unique and hence needs to adopt a specific approach. A self assessment of physical fitness goals, injuries suffered in the past, health problems (diabetes/Arithritis) and current physical fitness standards, is a must before making a schedule of the exercise regimen.
2. How much Exercise is Necessary
The most accepted norm, recommended by American Council on Exercise is 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. However, the duration is only for self motivation to make a beginning, what you do is more important than how much you do !
3. What Type of Exercise
Five types of exercise that promote active ageing (promote mental alertness and delay age related affects) are recommended. These are -:
- Cardio : Since heart disease are the biggest killers of human lives, cardio exercise are extremely important part of the programme. Moderately intense aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five times per week or, if you can engage in more vigorous aerobic exercise, do that three times a week for 25 minutes. Walking, swimming, and cycling are good examples of cardio exercise. In case of injuries to lower limbs, swimming or movement exercises in the pool are good alternatives.
- Strength and Endurance : At least twice a week (one day for upper body and other day for lower body), engage in exercises designed to maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance. Emphasis must be on core (muscles that are around the pelvis including abs), back and other forgotten muscles of the body which are not being used in the daily activities of life.
- Flexibility : Flexibility exercises at least twice a week are essential. In case of less time, surya namaskar and any side stretching exercise can be done in 10 minutes. Stretching exercises in all planes of motion of various joints in the body are essential. Focus on joints whose range of motion is less. Lower back, hip joints and calf muscle loosening exercises must be given special attention.
- Balance : Balance exercises are the most essential as you get older, specially in late 70s and 80s. These can be done at any time of the day. In the first phase - Backward and sideways walking, heel walking, toe walking. Thereafter – standing on one leg with eyes open(followed by eyes closed), walking forward, sideways and backward with eyes closed are simple exercises to improve your stability during daily activities of life to avoid falls.
- Pranayam (Breathing Exercise) : Incorporate pranayama, followed by few minutes of meditation (thoughtlessness) for good health of respiratory system and mental relaxation at least twice a week. In case you are doing workout that day, pranayama should be done after your workout.
Safe and Effective
A good exercise should be safe and be effective to give desired results with minimal effort necessary. As a guideline, one should try to do most exercises while lying down and thereafter progress to sitting, standing and movement exercises, to ensure gradual progression.
How much and How Hard to Exercise in a Day
An important aspect to be kept in mind is not to perform exercises to exhaustion, which is the general habit of to get a feel of achievement and satisfaction in the workout. Physical activity doesn’t have to be high intensity or competitive to be effective. It has to meet the goals, lifestyle, and abilities of the individual. Some may prefer higher intensity activities such as running competitions or mountain climbing while others may prefer less intensive activities such as walking due to pain and other functional limitations, and general personal preferences. Remember to keep adequate energy for other activities of work and daily activities of life to be done in the rest of the day ahead.
Personal Exercise Equipment
In the post COVID era, the dependence on gymnasium equipment needs to be forgone. A very limited personal equipment is adequate to meet the requirements of a veteran. These are –:
- Yoga mat (good cushion)
- Stability Ball
- Tennis ball (old)
- Foam Roller
- Elastic stretchable Band
- Dumbles/Kettlebells - 02 sets
- Medicine Ball 3 Kg
Practice Eating Skills Instead of Diets
Just as too much of exercise can be overly challenging and lead to burnout, so too can many common dieting practices. Diets that restrict entire food groups or limit calories excessively may not be sustainable, besides not meeting the personal food preferences. Focusing on improving your food choices and eating habits is a more sustainable approach that allows you to maintain health and performance without restrictions. Keeping more nutritious foods available will make it easier to make positive choices
Silver Lining :
Post retirement phase of life should be seen as an excellent opportunity to maintain a healthy lifestyle full of activity. Some silver linings are -:
Time, Resources and Choice
You have the luxury of deciding your routine, getting the required facilities is affordable and most importantly you can set your longtime cherished fitness goals which you would like to achieve.
Expected Gains Related to Effort
Contrary to popular belief, increase in strength and lean muscle mass, and reduction of fat mass in older years is at the same rate as the younger men. As per Hakkinen, “Lifelong strength training seems to minimize age related strength decreases at all ages, with master athletes at the age of 75 years demonstrating higher absolute strength values than untrained men at the age of 40”.
The right exercise program can help the veterans in minimizing the effects of the aging process by maintaining their strength and promoting muscle growth well into their later years. Physical activity promotion among veterans, particularly those with physical limitations and/or mental health conditions, needs to be included in veteran welfare schemes by the Army Veteran Cells. An active and fit veteran should be a role model for the society and his extended family (specially the new generation), in maintaining Lifetime Physical fitness through Active Ageing.
About The Author
Col Rajiv Ahlawat was commissioned in Corps of Engineers in 1997. The officer has done DSSC and Higher Command Course, besides other mandatory courses of Indian Army. The officer has varied staff tenures including SO2 in Engineers Branch of a Corps HQ in HAA, GSO1 of an Infantry brigade in Strike Corps, AMS in MS Branch of IHQ of MoD (Army) and Col Q of a Mountain Division in North East. He has done one instructional tenure as Commander of Cadets Training Wing, CME, Pune. He is presently posted in Army Design Bureau as Col ADB (Engineers). The officer is a World Squash Federation certified coach, certified in First Aid by Indian Red Cross Society and also certified by American Council on Exercise (ACE) in the domain of personal physical fitness
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)