There are many rites of passage in a person’s life that are met with great excitement and anticipation, such as obtaining a driver’s license or using a voting card for the first time. Receiving an application for the AARP when one is 50? Not so much. But with age comes benefits.
In our culture we generally define seniors as those falling in the 60-65-year range, the age set for many insurance benefits and tax breaks, not to mention discounts for entertainment and travel. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people aged 65 or older will more than double by 2030, and ideas for improving the quality of life for those living longer means increasing activity. Yes, seniors can always pick up a prescription at the drugstore, but they can also use exercise as a prescription for a healthier and happier life.
What are active seniors up to these days? According to the National Institute on Aging, the best kinds of activities for seniors involve endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. These favorite pastimes fit the bill:
There has always been golf and tennis, but now there’s pickle ball! Pickle ball is a sport that keeps the basics of over-the-net court play but uses a hollowed and holey plastic ball—similar to a whiffle ball—and paddles instead of rackets for play on a badminton court. It’s easy to find a place to play in your area by going to usapa.org, the official site for pickleball enthusiasts.
Stretching with yoga or pilates
Yoga is gaining popularity with seniors. It extends the spine, limbers the body and improves blood flow to the brain, heart and circulation overall. Many gyms, community centers, and studios offer yoga (with props included) for older or less-flexible students. For those who prefer to stretch, but not on the ground, chair yoga might be the perfect adaptation. Pilates is similar to yoga in that it stretches the spine and works towards muscle development and core strengthening. These are excellent practices for those with joint problems as these exercises can help improve posture.
Walking and hiking.
A stroll along the greenway or a hike on one of the many beautiful trails in our corner of the world is just a few short steps out the door. Hiking is a great way to enjoy the warm weather and, when done regularly, eases joint pain, boosts bone density, improves cardiovascular health and increases circulation. Doing it with other people? Even better!
Seniors have a plethora of travel adventures to choose from these days, from the loosely organized to highly curated. Hillwalk tours are self-guided walking tours through England, Scotland, Ireland and Spain where guests have multiple itinerary options. Eldertreks is another company geared towards the adventurous senior. It is the world’s first adventure travel company designed exclusively for people 50 and over that offers active, off-the-beaten-path, small-group adventures by both land and sea in over 100 countries. Other more educational senior travel companies include Exploritas (formerly known as Elderhostel), Road Scholar and Tauck Tours.
Active seniors need proper footwear and the days of homely orthopedic footwear are gone. Shoe stores are now carrying comfort shoes for seniors that are stylish, functional and can be properly fitted by a professional. Seniors face specific challenges with their feet: feet lose cushioning as they age, and the skin and nails can grow dry and brittle. Many seniors have poor circulation, resulting in slower healing of foot sores. Specific problems that seniors might encounter are corns and calluses (extremely dangerous for people with diabetes), heel spurs (from being overweight), hammertoes (knuckle swelling from a toe that draws the toe back when there isn’t sufficient room for the toe to move), and ingrown toenails. Seniors with diabetes should be vigilant about even minor foot problems as the disease often damages blood vessels that feed the feet.
For Robyn Lewis of Fleet Feet in Roanoke, the fit is the thing. “Think about your mattress. That’s the same thing with shoes. We want a foundation that is supportive.” Fleet Feet employees are trained in a specific software called Fit ID: a device that analyzes the metrics of your feet, ankles, arches, and heels and is captured on screen (and saved for future shopping) in less than five minutes. From there, staff offer suggestions for customers that incorporate their unique foot measurements, fitness level, and exercise goals.
“As we age, our feet hurt. They may swell with exercise,” says Lewis. Fleet Feet staff work with medical referrals to help select inserts and compression socks. Ever community-minded, Robyn and Blaine Lewis have been offering running and walking programs to the community for years. These programs are open to runners and walkers of all abilities and age. “We have 70-year-olds running with our groups,” says Lewis.
Bush Flora in Roanoke also carries a wide selection of comfort footwear, though not necessarily geared for the runner. Artie Bush, Bush-Flora’s third-generation owner, travels bi-annually to the Atlanta Shoe Market to select the newest lines of footwear. Some of the popular brands at Bush- Flora include Aetrex, Dansko, Drew, Ecco, Merrell, New Balance, Olukai and SAS. He and his staff have experience working with medical referrals for braces and orthotics and have a scanner for custom inserts.
Like Lewis at Fleet Feet, Bush believes in a good fit and uses a Brannock Device to that end. Active seniors need more support and Bush recommends replacing factory inserts with custom ones “to put a bounce in the step.” The shoes he carries offer multiple widths and sizes as well as deep toe boxes which allows for extra inserts.
He also has a colorful and stylish line of comfort, compression and diabetic socks by Sockwell. “They don’t look like the white or black ones you buy at the drug store,” says Bush. Compression socks are excellent for poor circulation or other medical conditions that can cause your blood to pool, which leads to foot and leg swelling, fatigue, and pain. Diabetic socks, on the other hand, are loose. The line at Bush Flora comes in stripes and patterns and look like any other athletic sock.
Regardless of your leisure or active pursuits, make strides to start with the correct footwear to ensure comfort and flexibility. Seniors can put their best feet forward by making sure they are wearing correctly fitted shoes as they lead balanced, happy and active lifestyles.✦