Mumbu Ndumbi, 55, wasn’t big on fitness. Exercising wasn’t something she did consistently throughout her life. In her 50s, her body began to feel and act foreign.
“If I engaged in any activity, I had to take a nap to recover. I found the walk up any stairs challenging and was tired all the time. In fact, there was a time my son had to help me up the stairs because I was experiencing pain in my leg,” Mumbu says.
Last year, she started walking and working out with Judith Wahinya-Glover, a fitness trainer who helps older persons – anyone over the age of 50 - maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
“The first time we walked at the Arboretum, I was the last one to finish and was panting seriously. Other people had to slow down for me to catch up. What was profound to me was knowing that we were agemates. The difference between us was that unlike me, they maintained an active lifestyle. I knew that if I was to enjoy my life, I needed to change,” she says.
Exercise is an integral part of our everyday health, including for those over the age of 50. Without movement, Judith says we reduce our chances of ageing gracefully.
“For older persons, exercising is basically functional to ensure that their joints and muscles are well oiled and primed for daily activities such as walking, lifting, and bending,” Judith says.
Getting her training from the International Sports Scientist Association, Judi as she’s popularly known, explains that as we age, bodies undergo a lot of physiological changes. Occurring at a snail’s pace, they are hard to notice. Metabolic rates slow down, and women particularly experience hormonal changes as well. This leads to effortless weight gain.
She adds: “This is further compounded by desk jobs and lifestyle habits characterised by processed foods and little to no movement. Unfortunately, the chicken comes home to roost just when life has begun. Pain, lack of strength and reduced functionality characterise the lives of inactive older persons leading to poor quality of life.”
Judi saw an opportunity in training older persons from the comfort of their homes as they tend to shy away from the gym. Some are self-conscious because they regard themselves as too old to work out while others feel uncared for by gym instructors as they may lack the patience and knowledge to work with them. Additionally, gyms are not designed with them in mind.
“I chose to work with Judi because my exercises needed to change to reflect the changes in the body,” Doreen Karanja, who’s in her fifties says. “She also designed a personalised meal plan.”
Exercising tones the muscles and strengthens bones, improves blood circulation and enhances proper utilisation of oxygen, improves flexibility and strengthens body organs such as the heart and lungs.
The requirements are minimal: An exercising mat, comfortable shoes and exercising gear, weights and a chair, especially because those above the age of 65 might not be as agile. The chair should be stable, preferably without arms.
Workout should last for at least 30 minutes a day, and done thrice a week, to get the most out of it. It’s advisable to go to the doctor for a checkup before begining to identify any risk factors.
During workouts, start by focusing on aerobic exercises such as brisk walking for an hour a day. Walking burns more energy and is easy to start with. Taking the stairs instead of the lift counts.
“Simple muscle workouts maintain muscle mass and strength. Majority of these exercises can be done while seated, to ease your body into the routine,” the fitness trainer explains.
For upper body strengthening, perform seated bicep curls, shoulder presses, arm circles and the lateral raises which are good for the shoulders and arms. If weights are not available, fluid-filled bottles or canned foods can be used. Such exercises help increase strength, mobility and build endurance.
Core exercises are important to maintain proper posture essential in walking, bending, and sitting. Exercises such as seated knee to chest, weighted tummy twists and extended leg raises while holding or sitting on a chair will keep the back straight.
The legs require some love too because they carry everything else. While walking and running can be great, they may take a toll on the legs especially if there’s an injury.
Exercises such as squats done while supported by a chair, single and double knee extensions, half lunges and calf leg raises are good for the body and gentle on the knees.
“There are also floor exercises for those who are strong enough. However, you don’t need to overwork yourself as this could lead to injuries, the very thing we’re seeking to avoid,” Judi shares.
The food and nutrition graduate also offers diet and nutrition consultation noting the importance of combining exercises with a proper diet. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, fiber from whole grains and lean meats especially fish and its bones since its packed with extra high levels of calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamin A.
“Furthermore, reduce your food portions. Only eat when hungry. Two meals a day is all you need. Avoid eating too close to bed time because such food just piles up,” she adds.
Almost a year into consistent exercising, Mumbu is feeling like herself again. “The pain in my leg is past tense, I sleep better and experience less fatigue and I’m no longer panting or dreading the staircases. My advice to young people: start moving and keep moving consistently.”
For Doreen, she can finally catch glimpses of her waist line. “I am healthier and happy with myself. If you’re active when younger, you can transition easily.”