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Next Avenue: In retirement, make this your new ‘job’

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This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

What if the narrative around aging in this country, and the world, was not about retiring and no longer working but instead about working to pursue health and wellness for longevity? That means flipping from a negative “what you no longer do” to a positive “what you can do” to increase your quality of life.

In the U.S., older Americans are among the fastest-growing segments of the population, with an estimated 80.8 million persons over the age of 65 by 2040 and 94.7 million by 2060. By 2050, the United Nations predicts there will be 1.5 billion people around the world age 65 or older; that is one in six people on the planet.

This is a market primed for the sale of anti-aging products, including cosmetics, supplements, skin products, pharmaceuticals, and more. An estimated $60 billion was spent on anti-aging products in the U.S. in 2021, and an estimated $120 billion by 2030, according to the most recent global Anti-Aging Market study.

The need for physical movement

Yet, what if a better quality of life as an older person was not about buying and consuming more products but engaging in accessible fitness routines with a community?

Yes, mortality is guaranteed, but immobility and ill health are not. Shifting the notion of what aging looks and feels like by incorporating regular physical movement, social interaction, and cognitive exercises into life can be the life-changer many millions need.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, I saw the need in my parents — my then 76-year-old mother and 79-year-old father — and decided to do something about it.

I started Vivo, a digital-based membership community of live exercise sessions, to help my mother, who had suffered a series of falls over the years, resulting in some broken bones, contusions, and a sprained wrist, but no hospital stays yet. 

As falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults, I knew she needed to start exercising to prevent more severe complications.

She was resistant to suggestions of exercise videos and online streaming classes, and the pandemic excluded the possibility of in-person trips to a gym. Instead, she needed individualized attention but also wanted small group classes to engage with peers and build community.

Check out: Can you run after age 50? These coaches and runners and a physical therapist say you can and should. Here’s how to do it safely.

Exercise as a priority

For many older adults, aging correlates with social isolation — from family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues — and the pandemic only exacerbated the problem.

For those 50 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports social isolation leads to an enormously high risk for dementia, stroke, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and suicide.

Moving to something as simple as live classes in small groups, offering cognitive tasks, along with muscle strength-building exercises led by an instructor over 40 years old, provides the possibility to connect with others.

My now 82-year-old father, who lives in Philadelphia, also struggled with the challenges of aging; he was not active due to back pain and sarcopenia. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sarcopenia, or the progressive loss of muscle mass and muscle strength, occurs naturally in 5% to 13% of people ages 60 and older. 

In persons 80 and older, estimates increase to 11% to 50%, resulting in frailty, mobility issues, fractures, and falls. This was also my mother’s issue. And sarcopenia correlates with a lessening of the quality of life.

Also see: Men over 50: Here are a few things you can be doing to take better care of your health

For example, a 2021 meta-analysis of several research studies concluded, “sarcopenia is associated with a significantly higher risk of mortality, independent of population and risk of bias.” 

In addition, a 2020 study reported that with non-pharmacological interventions, “exercise should be considered the priority” for strengthening patients with sarcopenia.

My father at first declared that strength training was not for him. But when I volunteered to take the classes twice a week with him, he was on board. I told him he could think of this as one day or Day One of a better, healthier life. This practice has changed not only his health but the nature of our relationship, as we get to have this shared experience together. 

The CDC reported in 2021 that life expectancy in the U.S. is 76.1 years. Life expectancy for a woman is 79.1, while for men, it is 73.2 years. So at 60 years old, many possibly have close to two decades more of life to live. 

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In April, 2022, the National Institutes of Health awarded Vivo $2.3 million to study how this science-based training strategy and interactive small-group format can improve muscle strength and blood sugar levels among older adults with prediabetes. The first phase will be completed in April 2023, with the final results published in 2024.

Eric Levitan is a technology executive, entrepreneur, founder, and CEO of Vivo. 

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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