Helping Seniors Stay Active

Every day, the 85-year-old Henry Cohen completes one lap after another in the pool.


The number of fit, active retirees is rising, thanks mainly to more healthy lifestyles and better medical treatment options. However, the growing number of elderly people also presents new challenges for research.

Henry Cohen doesn't let his age dictate anything, and certainly not his exercise workload. He swims three hours a day – at the age of 85. Shortly before six o'clock each morning, he adjusts his swimming goggles, puts on his bathing cap and slips into the pool. He then silently completes one lap after another. Meter for meter, hour for hour. “After training I can kick back. It completely relaxes me,” he says. “I think that's the reason I'm still so fit despite my age.”

Henry Cohen lives in Delray Beach, a retirement community in Florida. Even at the age of 85, in the pool he would leave some 40-year-olds in his wake. And it's evident from the first firm handshake at the latest that he also regularly lifts weights, rides a racing bike and goes bowling.

The retired optician thus belongs to a group of people that has been growing for years: fit and active retirees over 65. Life expectancy continues to rise worldwide – particularly in the industrialized countries, where it is now over 80.

This development is due partly to more healthy lifestyles and better medical treatment options. However, this positive trend also presents new challenges for research. “The rising life expectancy also means a higher risk for numerous disorders, many of which are chronic conditions,” says Dieter Weinand, member of Bayer’s Board of Management and Head of the Pharmaceuticals Division. “We are therefore always looking for new, highly specific therapeutic approaches to be able to provide even better help to patients in the future.”

Typical age-related disorders include cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attacks, but also eye disorders and cancer. In all these areas, Bayer scientists are intensively researching new therapy forms and developing medicines to treat heart failure, macular degeneration, prostate and lung cancer and other disorders.

Henry Cohen has his aches and pains, as he says: his joints hurt, his knees creak, and since his cataract operation he takes tear stimulation drops. “These are the symptoms that accompany old age,” he says, before making a joke about his knee problems. He likes to give the appearance that it's not an issue for him, but his balanced diet alone shows how seriously he really takes his health. “Our diet plays a big role in our general well-being,” he says. “We have regular information evenings in our community on this topic.”

At these events, nutritionists and health experts explain to the retirees how the risk factors for certain age-related disorders can be significantly reduced and how they can treat such disorders themselves in some cases. The meetings are organized by Nora Gerson. The 79-year-old resident of the Delray Beach retirement community makes sure to live a healthy lifestyle. “Many of my acquaintances and neighbors suffer from hypertension or elevated cholesterol levels,” she explains. “Yet these conditions are so easy to prevent with the right diet and adequate exercise.” Although Nora Gerson suffers from osteoporosis and mild arthritis, she teaches yoga courses for seniors and can still touch her knee with the tip of her nose.

Henry Cohen, Nora Gerson and Marilyn Williams do regulary sport.

Bayer helps seniors like Nora Gerson and Henry Cohen remain active despite their advanced age: the company offers a broad range of non-prescription medicines including pain-relievers and eye drops, as well as products to treat gastrointestinal complaints and hair loss. Bayer is the world’s second largest provider of non-prescription medicinal products and dietary supplements, and the number one in the world's largest OTC (over-the-counter) market, the United States.

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Henry Cohen uses non-prescription medicines, too. This is the only way he can go on long walks with Stella despite his arthritis. The Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is more than a pet for him: Stella is his best friend – a faithful companion who constantly remains at his side. “She is so intelligent and playful, and she trusts me.” With Stella, the father of four adult sons has once again assumed responsibility for another being and thus has a new task in life. “I enjoy taking care of her and playing with her.” And they always run into a lot of people on their walks together. “I always get into conversations with other people much more easily with her by my side,” says Henry Cohen. “She's usually the conversation starter.”

Henry Cohen and his Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Stella

Dogs keep you healthy

Numerous current studies indicate that pets have a positive impact on the health of elderly people, affecting both physical fitness and emotional health. A study by the International Federation on Aging (IFA) in Toronto, Canada, likewise reached this conclusion.

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“Pets can counteract depression, anxiety and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the IFA. “And their owners often have higher self-esteem and are more contented and cheerful.” This is due to the increased production of certain messenger substances in the body that have a relaxing effect. The positive health effects of pet ownership have been demonstrated above all with dogs and cats. Studies have shown that dog owners come into contact with other people more frequently when going for walks with their pets, and therefore have a lower tendency to suffer from loneliness and depression when they get older. What's more, this daily exercise prevents many disorders: it has been shown to lower the risk of numerous typical age-related diseases such as diabetes and chronic bronchitis.

Henry Cohen certainly can't complain about loneliness: if anything, he's mostly been concerned about his athletic physique since he met his partner Lorraine a number of years ago. “I haven't been in as good shape since I met her.” He grins and pats his stomach. “It's her fault I have a belly for the first time in my life.” But what happens happens, he says. After all, love isn't a matter of age.