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Cardio for All Ages

By: Jose Maria M. Villarama IICardio for All Ages

Cholo always dreaded family sports fests in his elementary school. Being the only child and born in his parents’ old age, he feels embarrassed to make his parents play in the games and physical activities lined up during this annual special event.  He believes his parents are “too old” to participate in the games and are at a higher risk of injuring themselves compared with their counterparts.  But his middle-aged father doesn’t seem to mind all the physical activity he has to undergo through and even feels competitive around dads in their late 30s.  After all, it not only gives Cholo’s father a sense of youthfulness but helps improve his cardiovascular and respiratory health as well.  

Young-Old Misconceptions

When it comes to exercises for extremely young or old age groups, there always seems to be some sort of debate about what they can or cannot perform.  Some contend that youngsters, particularly those below 17, should not engage in too much or too strenuous physical activity because it may stunt their growth.  Case in point are the gymnasts who do not grow to be as tall as they should because rigorous training in their youth has impeded their natural growth cycle. 

For middle-aged adults to senior citizens, on the other hand, engaging in sports or exercise may be risky as it may trigger heart attacks or strokes, among other illnesses.  While the number of cases related to this may be low, there are instances when seemingly healthy middle-aged men or women suddenly collapse or die while engaging in a particular sport, say tennis or basketball, because of “too much exertion or stress.”  

Benefits for All

With the exception of strength training exercises, experts, however, believe that children and adults alike, no matter what age, should engage in exercise, particularly cardiovascular or aerobic (i.e. requiring the presence of oxygen) exercises.  Cardiovascular exercises, which increase breathing and heart rate, have the following benefits across all age groups:

  • Strengthen the heart
  • Increase lung capacity
  • Boost metabolism, burn calories and assist in weight loss
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase energy
  • Promote better sleep
  • Help prevent diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease.

Different Strokes

The types of exercises that commonly fall under cardiovascular or aerobic workouts are walking, jogging, biking, swimming, dancing, and studio aerobics, among other exercises. Obviously, however, there are different exercises suited for different age groups, as well as for people with different levels of flexibility, endurance or strength.  The following loose groupings, however, more or less give an idea of what kind of aerobic physical activity certain age groups should engage in:

Children – For kids, it may not be too difficult to incorporate exercise into their daily routine because playing is already equivalent to physical activity and exercise.  Biking around the neighborhood, kicking ball on the lawn, shooting hoops in the park or simply running around to expend what extra energy a child has immensely benefits that child’s cardiovascular health. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children and youth aged 5 to 17 years old engage in moderate to vigorous aerobic activity for 60 minutes each day, at least 3 times a week. Doing this in two 30-minute sets each day is said to produce maximum benefits for children.

Teenagers – Cardiovascular activity for this group may have to be more structured.  This may entail having the teener join a class, team, club or organization in school or within the neighborhood to motivate him or her to perform exercises regularly.  The so-called “buddy system,” that is performing sports with and among friends, not only encourages the teenager to perform the exercise or sport but also inculcates the value of teamwork and sportsmanship in him or her early on. Sports like basketball, athletics or track & field, volleyball, soccer, etc. not only promote cardiovascular health but improve stamina, strength, endurance, and flexibility as well.

Adults – Meanwhile, for adults, especially those who work the daily grind, exercising may be equated to a prison or death sentence in that it is something they may be compelled to perform or do, even if it is obviously for their “rehabilitation or development.” Fortunately, some offices offer gym memberships as part of an employee’s benefit package; others, on the other hand, form teams, like basketball or badminton teams, that usually play against each other in company-sponsored tournaments or after-office workouts.  The important thing to remember for adults is that the exercise routine should be done consistently and regularly to produce benefits or results.  To make the most out of a cardiovascular workout, one has to determine one’s maximum heart rate (beats per minute).  This is done by subtracting one’s age from 226 (for women) or 220 (for men). Fifty to seventy-five percent of the resulting difference is the target heart rate zone, which one should try to maintain each time he or she is working out or engaging in a sport to reap maximum benefits.

Senior Citizens – Finally, for the elderly, a supervised, progressive and low-intensity cardiovascular or aerobic exercise program is recommended.  Aside from improving overall lung and heart capacity and function, exercise can help the elderly perform daily functions such as climbing stairs, pushing a grocery cart or other daily tasks that may seem ordinary to people who are much younger than they are.  From walking as a group every morning to ballroom dancing, such exercises not only enhance vascular and lung health but also encourage mobility, flexibility and even sociability among senior citizens who may otherwise be sedentary, living alone or depressed. The important thing to remember when coming up with exercise programs for senior citizens is to make sure that risks for accidents are reduced (i.e., using stationary bikes vs. regular ones) and that stress and impact levels are kept at zero or at a minimum. Experts suggest any of the following for senior citizens: (1) moderate intensity cardiovascular exercises for 30 minutes, 5 days a week; (2) vigorous cardio exercises for 20 minutes, 3 days a week or (3) a combination of both, 3 to 5 days a week.

It is unfortunate that technology and innovation nowadays have made most everyone sedentary and lazy. What used to be a simple Physics definition of work (i.e., force over displacement) has now been complicated by distractions such as video-gaming consoles, driverless cars, smart appliances and the likes. Less and less people are actually working (and working out) because of these advances.  Basic exercises like walking and lifting simple weights have been replaced by complex machines which can only be accessed via gym memberships. Perhaps it is now time to go back to basics and utilize the “simplest exercise machine” that men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes have at their disposal – the human body. After all, the body has been equipped to heal and make itself healthy when properly taken care of.

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