Exercise can turn back the clock on feeling your age

by Stacia Friedman
Posted 8/11/22

Even with 70 being the new 50, many seniors experienced a setback in their energy level as a result of the pandemic.

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Exercise can turn back the clock on feeling your age


Even with 70 being the new 50, many seniors experienced a setback in their energy level as a result of the pandemic. During that time when going to a fitness center, taking a yoga class or even grocery shopping was temporarily taboo, they scaled back on their normal exercise regime. Or worse. They may have lost interest in rigorous exercise in favor of playing Wordle.

Meanwhile, the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle have generated a new term, “The Sitting Disease,” which has been credited with causing nerve damage, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and dementia. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, sitting for more than eight hours a day poses the same risks as obesity or smoking. 

Here is an even better reason to turn off Netflix and lace up your Adidas. A study conducted by the University of California San Diego and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the more you exercise, the younger your cells become, regardless of your chronological age. While you can’t turn back your cellular clock to 22, you can take up to eight years off your biological age with regular exercise.

Evaluating your status

The first step in regaining strength and endurance starts an evaluation by your primary care physician before heading back to the fitness center or pickleball court. Depending on your overall health, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests to rule out any underlying problem.

“A cardiac stress test evaluates if your arteries are getting enough blood to the heart muscle. A pulmonary function test – which shouldn’t be too stressful and is conducted in the hospital hallway - shows how much air a person can breathe in and out, the amount of air inside a person’s lungs, and how well oxygen from the surrounding environment is absorbed into the body,” said Dr. William Shapiro, a pulmonary critical care doctor at Chestnut Hill Hospital and Temple Lung Center.

“If when they exercise, a person experiences chest pain, more shortness of breath than they are accustomed to, a cold sweat, a feeling of impending doom, lightheadedness or even the sense that something is off, they should seek medical attention,” Shapiro said.

However, if there are no serious issues and your problem is just that you are deconditioned, your primary care doctor may refer you to physical therapy to deal with the loss of muscle mass, fatigue or balance issues that come with lack of exercise, said Sandra Abrams, a physical therapist at Chestnut Hill Hospital. There is a physical therapy department inside [Chestnut Hill] Hospital and another located at 35 Bethlehem Pk., both offering the same high level of care, Abrams said.

Benefits of physical therapy

“On your first visit, we evaluate you top to bottom for one hour and send your doctor a full assessment of goals, including your home program,” said Sandra Abrams, a physical therapist at Chestnut Hill Hospital. “We customize a treatment plan for every patient.” Abrams, who has been on staff at Chestnut Hill Hospital for seven years, previously worked at Mercy Health System and taught at Temple. “I came to Chestnut Hill Hospital thinking I would retire soon, but I never left because it’s such a nice place to work,” she said.

“We are very big on patient education and teach patients how to move to avoid hurting themselves when performing daily activities like getting in and out of bed. We promote maximum function with minimum pain. We also do soft tissue work and spinal mobilization,” Abrams said. 

“I like to see people who want to be independent and we help them achieve that. The goal is to be able to work out at the gym three days a week without pain. We also try to get people off of medications related to their muscular skeletal system,” she said.

How long does it take to get your mobility back? Abrams said it requires a two to three month commitment with patients coming to PT once or twice a week, plus doing home exercises.

If you are tempted to seek advice on getting your mojo back from a physical trainer, rather than a licensed physical therapist, Abrams advises against it. “I was a fitness trainer before becoming a physical therapist. That role did not require being a neuromuscular expert or how to best help people with complex issues. For that, you need a licensed physical therapist,” she said.

Lack of exercise often leads to loss of muscle mass and balance issues, including dizziness known medically as positional vertigo. “If that is your diagnosis, Dr. James Barsky, in our department, is an expert in dizziness and balance. That includes patients with diabetes who have balance issues. We get them moving again,” Abrams said. 

What about seniors who have had COVID? “Mild COVID cases can result in long term fatigue. We teach them energy conservation and base our exercise program on their status,” she said. “COVID impacts the body in different ways. If they have respiratory issues, we have a respiratory therapist in the hospital who will give them a pulmonary test.”

The good news is that it is never too late to return to your former level of strength and endurance. “We see people who are in their 90s, including some who are 100,” Abrams said. “If the public knew the benefits of physical therapy, there wouldn’t be enough of us.”

For more information, contact Chestnut Hill Hospital at 215-248-8200.