Exercise does an aging body good

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By Heather Travis
Thursday, January 8, 2009
When "Sergeant Major" Dora Boode tells people to get exercising, they listen.
 
 
‘Sergeant Major’ Dora Boode directs a troop of seniors through exercises at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging (CCAA) at Western. The 70-year-old volunteers as a fitness instructor for a program tailored to aging muscles and limbs.
 
 
But, Boode isn’t running an army boot camp. The 70-year-old is volunteering at a biweekly exercise class at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging (CCAA) at The University of Western Ontario and the average age of her ‘recruits’ is 75 years old.
 
“I am a stickler for the rules,” she says, adding the participants affectionately gave her the military title because of her ability to keep everyone on task.
 
Like many participants, Boode is looking for ways to stay active as she ages. She joined the group exercise program 11 years ago, but with a background as a fitness instructor, she couldn’t resist moving to the front of the class.
 
“And, it gives me a workout,” she says.  
 
The 20-year-old CCAA is a research and community resource centre for those aged 55 and older and is housed within Mount St. Joseph’s on Richmond Street. It offers classes Monday to Friday and membership is about 500 participants.
 
Aside from the combined fitness classes (cardio and strength training), there is yoga and pilates, personal training, strength training, dynamic balance, lifestyle coaching and Get Fit for Active Living, as well as the osteoporosis, stroke, and chronic obstructive lung disease programs.  
 
Each week about 35 participants spend Tuesday and Thursday mornings doing cardio workouts in the gymnasium, lift weights and do cool down and stretching exercises under the guidance of a seniors’ fitness instructor and volunteers like Boode.
 
Bob Acton, 81, and his wife, Margeret, 80, have been working up a sweat at the CCAA for the past 10 years. Although he is unable to jog around the gymnasium with the rest of the class, Acton races to complete twenty minutes on a stationary recumbent bicycle while lifting three-pound hand weights.  
 
“If you are at home, you can always find something else to do,” he says. “There is a bit of discipline to it.
 
“If you are away for a couple of weeks, you really notice it.”  
 
The decade of workouts at the centre seem to have paid off. With each annual fitness test, Acton has proven to increase his fitness levels.
 
As the class progresses, laughter and words of encouragement echo through the gymnasium as participants move into the various positions dictated by Sergeant Major.
 
“I’ve never been good at exercising on my own,” says 64-year-old Sharon Cox, adding the group setting keeps her motivated.
 
“You get competitive,” she says. “You say, ‘if that woman who is 20 years older than me can do it, so can I.’”
 
This year, the CCAA is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is one of the longest standing research centres at Western.
 
“We develop model physical activity programs and train people nationally to replicate the programs,” says program director Clara Fitzgerald. “It is not just for healthy, active people.”  
 
In addition to general fitness, strength training and balance classes, CCAA also offers programs for those who have osteoporosis, have suffered a stroke or have chronic obstructive lung disease.
 
“These older people are trying to maintain their functional abilities,” adds Fitzgerald.
 
CCAA also conducts research on activity and aging. Participants in the fitness classes are recruited for research studies both at the centre and in other faculties at Western.
 
Research director Donald Paterson says older people who exercise live longer and lower their risks for diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some forms of cancer. It can also reduce the number of years of dependency or length of stay in a long-term care facility, which lessens the strain on the health-care system.
 
“At any age you still have the physiological capacity to adapt, and improve and prevent decline in your aerobic system and in your strength,” he says.
 
The perception of the impact of exercise on older populations has changed since CCAA opened about 20 years ago. Paterson says researchers have a better understanding of the positive influence exercise can have on disease prevention and overall health.
 
Heather Williams, 76, sees the exercise program as the key to staying independent.
 
“It is an excellent program and they are geared towards what is right for our age group,” she says. “The more fit we are, the more we are able to keep out in the community.”
 
Williams joined CCAA eight years ago as a way to encourage her husband, who suffered from diabetes, to improve his health.
 
Although her husband has since died, Williams continues to exercise.
 
“I know I am stronger than I otherwise would be,” she says. “On the whole, it’s keeping me healthy.”  
 
Similarly, Ron Mousley, 72, says exercise is allowing him to stay active as he ages.
 
“As you get older, you’ve got to keep the limbs moving and keep your strength,” he says. “You feel much better.”  
 
For more information about CCAA, contact 519-661-1603 or e-mail ccaa@uwo.ca.  

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