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Best Ways for Seniors To Stay Active And Maintain Well-Being

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Why Exercise is Important for Older People?

Exercise has countless benefits for all ages, including a healthier heart and stronger muscles and bones to say the least. It enhances mobility, flexibility, and balance. Furthermore, people who exercise tend to have improved immune and digestive functioning, better blood pressure and bone density, and a lower risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers. For seniors, there are additional benefits, like the fact that regular exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's and osteoporosis, lowers the chance of injury, and can even improve one's mood.

As we age, our muscle mass begins to decrease. When we enter our forties, adults can lose 3-5% of muscle mass with each subsequent decade of life. Muscle is an essential contributor to our balance and bone strength; it keeps us strong. Without it, our mobility and independence become compromised.

Doctors and health professionals highly recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic or physical activity every week and exercise the major muscles on two or more days a week. They have concluded that doing 150 minutes a week cuts the chances of dementia and depression by a third.

Some of the key benefits of exercise for seniors are:

  • Improved memory skills - Physical Exercise is also vital for cognitive function and brain health. Scientists have found that brain neurons- the special cells that perform all the necessary function to keep you alive, as well as help you think and improve your memory- all increase after a few weeks of regular exercise. In fact, some researchers found that when individuals walk three or more times a week, the occurrence of dementia was 35% lower than those senior who were not involved in any type of physical activity. The brain's natural decline essentially slows down.

  • Improved healing and function - Regular exercise by seniors may decrease the time it takes for a wound to heal by 25%. Also, a healthy, strong body can better fight off infection and makes recovery from illness or injury easier.

  • Prevention of disease or chronic conditions - According to National Institute of Aging, exercising as a senior may delay or even prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis, just to name a few.

  • Increased balance and stability - Falls are the number one injury among seniors, and regular exercise can help prevent them. Falling leads to injuries like broken hips or other bones, and exercise is a key component to improve functional reach and balance.

  • Improved quality of life and increased life expectancy - New studies have found that seniors who exercise improved not only their physical fitness but experienced psychological benefits as well. Exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression and improve the mood in general. The increased mobility that comes from regular, moderate exercise can help a senior maintain his or her independence if it is done on a long-term basis. Consistency is more important than intensity.

Ways you can be physically active include:

  • Incidental activity: housework, walking to the local shop instead of driving, gardening

  • Leisure pursuits: golf, lawn bowls, bocce, woodwork, dancing

  • Structured activities: walking groups, strength training, tai chi, hydrotherapy, yoga

  • Exercises: aerobic activity, exercising major muscles, body flexibility, coordination

It is never too late for seniors to start engaging in a regular exercise routine. The key is to find something you enjoy doing, and start at a level that is easy to maintain. Many find aerobic fitness to be fun and fairly easy. It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival. Studies show that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, and coordination also have a favorable influence on life expectancy. It also has been noted that there is a 50% reduction in falls when groups of 65 and older exercised to music for an hour each week for six months. An increase in both walking speed and stride length also has been found.

Guidelines for older adults aged 65 and over suggest those who are ‘generally fit’ and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to be active daily. Again, aerobic and strength activities are advised.

Examples of aerobic activities that require vigorous effort include:

  • jogging or running

  • swimming fast

  • riding a bike fast or on hills

  • singles tennis

  • soccer or kickball

  • hiking uphill

  • energetic dancing

Examples of aerobic activities that require moderate effort include:

  • walking

  • water aerobics

  • ballroom and line dancing

  • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills

  • playing doubles tennis

  • pushing a lawn mower

  • canoeing

  • volleyball

  • aerobic video workouts

There are many ways older people can strengthen their muscles, whether at home or in the gym. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • carrying or moving heavy loads, such as groceries

  • activities that involve stepping and jumping, such as dancing

  • heavy gardening, such as digging or shoveling

  • exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups

  • yoga

  • lifting light weights

  • watering plants in garden

Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework are important, as they break-up periods of sitting, and contribute to our exercise regimens.

Various national organizations provide information on exercise and wellbeing:

The bad news however, is that there is a decline in aerobic exercise across all adults, that then accelerates in our later years. This age associated decline in aerobic capacity is accentuated by conditions such as cardiac, pulmonary and peripheral artery diseases. Often people lose the need to move. For example with TV remote controls, we no longer need to stand-up to operate TVs and many other appliances. Modern kitchens are designed for easy access to everything and offices with swivel chairs lead us to not need to stand-up to reach different furniture.

In homes for the elderly, the caregivers will bring and place things within easy access so there is no need to stand or stretch to reach. For speed and ease, limited moves are generally encouraged; but as we age, moving becomes slower so time is more often needed. If movement is not practiced it may become more difficult, and start to compound the challenges.

At IHCA, we can help elders engage in enjoyable physical activities and assist in housekeeping duties which in turn can benefit them, help them attain good health, and live a happy life independently. IHCA is a private care service provider which have served clients in the Southern California Region for over a decade now.

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