Answering the wakeup call

People might be living longer – but are they living well?

When Eric Fredrikson was in his mid-40s, he led the fast-paced lifestyle of a busy lawyer and entrepreneur. He was also overweight, a smoker and in his words “quite sick” with asthma and sinusitis.

“One day when I was shaving, I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘how did that portly gentleman get in here with me?’” he laughs. “But of course the portly gentleman was me.”

A second wake-up call came when he went out hiking with some friends. Although these friends were about 25 years older, Eric had difficulty keeping pace. “By the time the hike was over, I was out of breath and aching all over,” he says. “So much so, they had to half carry me back to the car.”

Realizing it was time to make some changes, Eric stopped smoking – and he started walking.

“I started slowly at first, walking only every second day,” he says.

And gradually, he began to see results. He started to lose weight and his asthma improved. He also found he had considerably more strength and energy. “It was amazing,” he says. “Not only did I feel fit physically, but I also improved my mental energy and built up my immune system.”

And now, at 75, Eric is still walking. More than that, he’s talking: he’s made a career of helping other people learn how to improve their quality of life and age healthfully.

His first book, Use it or Lose it: A Guide for the 50Plus was followed by It’s No Fun Falling which was used by Shoppers Drug Mart in its campaign addressing the risk of injury from falling, particularly for people with osteoporosis. He then went on to write another book on the topic: How to Avoid Falling: A Guide to Active Aging (Firefly Books).

“Falling is the number one cause of people being hospitalized in Canada, the U.S. and virtually every major developed country,” Eric says. “In fact, the World Health Organization considers osteoporosis-related falling to be the 2nd biggest health problem in the world.”

Physical fitness is key for preventing a fall – as well as for a speedier recovery when you do fall, he says.

Eric’s other books include Fit for Business which stresses the importance of exercise for maintaining mental and physical stamina. “The key is to find some sort of physical activity that fits with the hectic schedule of a business lifestyle,” he says.

Eric also taught accident-avoidance courses for organizations promoting strategies for successful aging, including the federal government’s Home Safe Home program.

The health risks of inactivity
With modern medical advances people are not only expected to live longer, but work longer. But experts say that physical activity is key to continuing health as well as the strength and energy necessary to keep working.

Studies have shown that if you exercise you can reduce your chance of premature death as much as 35 per cent. On the other hand, if you’re inactive you could be twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease alone. Studies have also shown that exercise decreases the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, certain cancers and premature death from any cause.