by Lorraine DeLuca

It wasn’t so long ago that a woman in her 80s was expected to be frail, permanently hunched over, and dependent on a cane and the kindness of other people — if she were lucky enough to live that long.

That perception is changing, however, thanks in part to the realization that exercise is considered essential for continued health and independence.

My mother, who is 83, just started exercising last year when she joined a senior citizens center. She now attends an exercise class with friends from her new senior living condo. She loves it — in no small part because it’s social as well as good for her. If she misses a class, she’ll go to the health club to walk on the treadmill, knowing she may run into someone she knows.

This is a huge deal, as my mother never exercised a day in her life, even with two daughters in the fitness business. To be honest, she was simply looking for more activities to fill her day when she started, but now she is more aware of the benefits of exercise.

Exercise wasn’t considered fun until Jane Fonda turned it into an “in” thing to do. Up until then, the general population, for the most part, wasn’t even thinking about exercising. As for older women, they were essentially told to sit down so they wouldn’t hurt themselves.

But as research on osteoporosis shows, older women no longer have to be burdened with the frailty that was once an expected part of aging. We now have the power to stop or slow the development of osteoporosis.

I am currently on a mission to do just that. In my Pilates studio, I remind every client to get a bone density test, exercise and take their calcium. I am especially worried about young women who don’t even think about their calcium intake. How great would it be if we could prevent osteoporosis entirely through education, nutrition and exercise? I’m starting with my 17-year-old daughter, and I am educating my clients to help their daughters. It’s gratifying to have control over our health in some way.

I have been in the exercise business for more than 25 years now. It is exciting for me to see that older women are walking into the studio to start exercising for the first time in their lives — that didn’t happen in the 1980s. Even more exciting, though, is watching the progress they make from the first day they walk in. I have seen amazing changes in their posture, strength, toning and balance.

Women need to encourage each other to exercise — walk together, exercise to a video together, try a new class together, anything to get moving. I’ll write more soon, but first things first — I’m going to take a walk!

Lorraine DeLuca, a certified Pilates trainer and post-rehabilitation therapy specialist, is co-owner of Bedford Pilates and Fitness Studio in Bedford, N.Y. She holds a master’s of science in exercise physiology and is on the faculty of the American Council on Exercise.

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