By Mykel Kirkpatrick
Community Outreach Coordinator, Optum New Mexico
New Mexico is on course to having among the oldest populations in the country within the decade, bringing a rise in illnesses and associated health care costs.
As of 2022, 18.5 percent of the New Mexico population was 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census. Projections are that by the year 2030, 32.5 percent of New Mexico’s population will be age 60 or older and that our state will rank third in the nation for the percentage of its population in that age group. For perspective, the 65 and older demographic for the entire U.S. is expected to reach 25 percent by 2060. Nearly one-quarter of older adults in the U.S. are members of a racial or ethnic minority group.
This information is critically important to residents in a state like New Mexico, which is already facing a crisis in terms of doctor shortages and patient access to care. Aging brings a higher risk of chronic diseases, such as dementias, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and cancer, which are the nation’s leading drivers of illness, disability, deaths and health care costs. However, these challenges do not have to be a foregone conclusion for our community in years to come. There are steps each of us can take to help avoid illness and disease as we age.
For older adults, regular physical activity is one of the most important things an individual can do for good health. Older adults who are physically active (specifically including balance activities) on a regular basis are less likely to experience falls, and therefore reduce the likelihood of certain injuries. It can also help improve balance and strengthen muscles so that older people can keep doing their day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity such as walking, bicycling, and swimming decreases arthritis pain and improves function, mood, and quality of life. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week is recommended.
When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week due to chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none at all. Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.
Remember that it is important to talk with a doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you or your loved ones. For those who are 65 years of age or older, generally fit and with no limiting health conditions, here are some frequently recommended options:
- Moderate-intensity aerobic activity – anything that gets your heart beating faster – at least 150 minutes per week. This includes aerobic activity or “cardio,” ranging from pushing a lawn mower, to learning a new dance, to walking or biking to the store. On a scale of 0-10 where 0 is sitting and 10 is working as hard as you can, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is a 5 or 6.
- Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (for older adults who are able) at least 75 minutes per week. A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous-intensity activity is equivalent to two minutes of moderate-intensity activity. On a scale of 0-10 where 0 is sitting and 10 is working as hard as possible, vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is a seven or eight.
- Muscle-strengthening activity, or anything that makes your muscles work harder than usual, at least two or more days a week. There are many ways to strengthen your muscles, whether it’s at home or in the gym. The activities you choose should work all the major muscle groups of your body – legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Consider working with resistance bands, lifting weights, mild forms of yoga, heavy gardening such as a digging or shoveling, and other exercises that use your body weight as resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups.
- Balance activities help prevent falling, which reduces the risk of injury. Walking backward, standing on one leg, or using a wobble board are all examples of balance activities. Strengthening your back, abdomen, and leg muscles also improves balance.
- Multicomponent physical activity can include a combination of moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, and balance training. Dancing, yoga, tai chi, gardening, and sports are examples of multicomponent activities because they usually incorporate multiple types of physical activity.
Optum New Mexico uniquely promotes physical activity and health education for residents ages 55 and older at its Community Center, 4010 Montgomery Blvd NE. Anyone who meets that age requirement can access wellness classes, events, and a state-of-the-art gym free of charge.
The center, designed as a welcoming space for seniors to keep physically active, intellectually stimulated, emotionally supported, and socially connected. It is open to anyone regardless of their health insurance plan. Guests of the center also do not have to be an Optum NM patient to make full use of the facility.
The center’s program offerings are constantly evolving. To date, they include “yogalates” and dance classes; a weekly movie day; arts and crafts activities; BrainSavers, an Alzheimer’s prevention program; and presentations on a variety of health topics, such as diabetes and osteoporosis. Pneumatic resistance machines, which provide smooth and safe tension through compressed air as opposed to via stacks of weights, are a highlight of the fitness area.
The center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more details, visit optum.com/nmcommunitycenters, or call 505.254.6500.