Everyone knows, when it comes to our health, there is no “magic bullet” that will keep us healthy and fit throughout our lives. Though if anything comes close to that, it’s exercise. Exercises help us maintain a healthy weight, staves off depression, keeps joints flexible, and can lower cholesterol levels.
For seniors, regular exercise is even more important. It’s so essential, in fact, that the National Institutes of Health calls it “one of the healthiest things you can do.” Even moderate exercise, the organization states, has proven benefits, including delaying or preventing arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and balance problems — which can lead to falls and fractures. Exercise can also help increase cognitive ability and reduce stress.
If you would like to see your elderly loved one reap the benefits of exercise, why not stay physically active together? Below are some simple exercises you can do as a pair. Remember, of course, to check with your loved one’s doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Ask if he or she can exercise safely and if there are any special precautions you should take.
Take a walk
Walking is perhaps the easiest of all exercise routines to stick to. After all, it doesn’t require any special equipment apart from comfortable shoes, it can be done almost anywhere and it is gentle on the body. If you can, pick a regular day and time for your walk together. This will make it easier to remember. But, try to walk in different places. Viewing the passing sights can make the walk that much more pleasant. If your loved one needs a walker or a cane, be sure to pick a place with level, paved pathways. Don’t forget to take water and sunscreen in the summer; older people can be more susceptible to sunburn and heatstroke. Be careful, too, not to go too far from your house or car, in case a problem arises, and you need to get home or summon help.
Head to the pool
The water in a swimming pool is the ideal exercise medium. It supports the body completely so gentle stretching exercises can be done without fear of injury. Even if your loved one can no longer swim, he or she can simply walk in the water. Pushing against the weight of the water will build muscle mass. You can make the event more entertaining by tossing a ball or ring back and forth to each other, or by bringing some favorite music and swaying or moving your arms to the rhythm. If your loved one can still swim safely, keep track of the number of laps completed at each session. This is a fun way to note the progress being made.
Weight training is not just for Olympic athletes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older people can benefit from “muscle-strengthening activities.” Stronger muscles prevent falls and improve the performance of everyday tasks, increasing independence. If you decide to try weight training with your loved one, start very small — with lightweight hand weights, for instance. The two of you can simply carry these while walking, or you can try a few arm curls while watching TV. Be sure to start with only a few repetitions, especially if your loved one has been very sedentary. Too much exercise all at once could cause muscle spasms or aggravate existing conditions, such as arthritis. You can always work up to more repetitions as your loved one’s muscles — and confidence — grows.
Don’t forget that any exercise is good exercise. Simple little joys like strolling through a department store, walking the dog, planting some flowers in the garden, or getting the mail can all add up to a day filled with physical activity.
Susan Oja is the President of Home and Hearth Caregivers, which specializes in non-medical care for seniors in the Chicagoland area. Home and Hearth Caregivers is also a Division of Parker Cromwell HealthCare.