Healthy Living for Hawaii's Seniors - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Healthy Living for Hawaii's Seniors

Jonna Otto Jonna Otto
Helen Merrick Helen Merrick
Dr. Max Vercruyssen Dr. Max Vercruyssen
Mike Nakashima Mike Nakashima
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

We've all heard it before: diet and exercise are keys to a healthy life.

In our continuing series on seniors - in conjunction with the Aloha United Way - we look at how the "fountain of youth" could be found in every step we take.

When you see 70, 80, and 90 year olds jumping around and walking briskly, there's pretty much no excuse for being a couch potato!

The climb to success comes easy for 65 year old, Jonna Otto. She's been flipping out in gymnastics classes at Honolulu's Hawaii Academy for more than four years now. "We have a lot of people in our 80's that are doing wonderfully. I'm on the young side. I'm one of the younger ones!" says Otto.

A healthy lifestyle sprouts from Otto's family tree. Her mother, 93 year old Helen Merrick, still occasionally competes in gymnastics competitions with her peers.

"One meet, we had five 90 year olds, and it was vicious competition!" says Dr. Max Vercruyssen, a gerontologist who runs the Hawaii Academy. Vercruyssen says the secret to a long, healthy life is all in the way we think. "When you have people that have that kind of attitude … I don't care about what is going on and I'm not going to be limited in my activities … they have a pretty good prognosis for a long life," he explains.

Of course, exercising and eating right is vital, and it shows in the chronic conditions of Hawaii's adults over age 65. According to the state health department, more than half are overweight, 25% are limited by some type of health problem, almost a fifth has diabetes, and 47% of seniors over age 85 have Alzheimer's.

Heart disease tops Hawaii's five leading causes of death, in residents 65 and older, followed by malignant tumors, Alzheimer's disease, influenza-pneumonia, and diabetes. Health experts say staying active and strong not only makes you healthier but keeps you independent.

"Once you lose mobility, then you're either depending on something or someone and, down the line, you're going to eventually do that - but let's prolong that," says Hawaii Academy seniors instructor, Mike Nakashima.

The thing to remember is: it's never too late to start.

The Aloha United Way has a one-stop shop for seniors and caregivers to get referrals to thousands of agencies, including places you get up and get moving. Just dial 2-1-1. A here's how everybody can get involved to help our seniors. To donate just $10, please text 2-7-7-2-2 and put AUW in the subject line. You're invited to text multiple times to give as much as you can.


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