Reiner W. Gloor
ROUGHLY 7% of the population — about 7 million Filipinos — are above the age of 60, says the Department of Health (DoH) using 2014 estimates. Their health and situation is the focus of the annual “Elderly Filipino Week,” led by the DoH on the first week of October.
According to Philippine health experts, topping the list of health concerns of the elderly is proper and timely immunizations and regular physical activity.
The elderly have a higher risk of serious complications when they are exposed to flu and pneumonia because of compromised or weak immune systems, coupled with lack of exercise and possibly sedentary lifestyles (too much TV viewing, use of computers and the like). Keeping the elderly regularly mobile or physically active helps to prevent heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, depression, and dementia. Health professionals, including DoH experts, note that a significant number of Filipino elderly do not engage in exercise or regular physical activities that may be called “proper or recommended exercise.”
They recommend that elderly Filipinos be ready to undergo health services such as bone scanning, random blood sugar testing, cholesterol testing, pneumococcal vaccine shots, and specialized medical consultation, if necessary.
Last year, at least 1.7 million doses of flu vaccines and 1.1 million doses of pneumococcal vaccines were given for free to senior citizens listed in the national government’s National Housing Targeting System for Poverty Reduction list. The country’s various public health centers administer free pneumococcal and flu vaccines.
While updating vaccinations is important, doctors repeatedly counsel the elderly that it is equally important to stay active and do regular exercises. Many doctors think that the activities of daily life such as shopping and doing household chores like cooking do not count as exercise as these activities do not significantly increase the heart rate. Healthy physical activities are those that move the body vigorously enough to increase the heart rate. Among the acceptable physical activities are walking, dancing, and recreational sports which can include riding a bike and playing doubles tennis.
No one is too old to indulge in elderly-appropriate physical activities — any reduction in the risk for heart diseases and strokes should be taken seriously. However, caution must be exercised by the elderly who are starting to exercise. An inactive older person should not rush, but instead build up their stamina, gradually increasing the span and intensity of the physical activities over a period of time.
Let us take care of the elderly and encourage them to be physically active and to take care of their health seriously.