With age, the body does take a little longer to repair itself, but moderate physical activity is good for people of all ages and ability levels. In fact, the benefits of your elderly parents exercising regularly far outweigh the risks. Even elderly people with chronic illnesses can exercise safely. Many medical conditions are improved with exercise, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure and obesity.
Regular exercise provides a myriad of health benefits, including improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and neuro-cognitive function.
Regular exercise improves the following:
- Immune Function. A healthy, strong body fights off infection and sickness more easily and more quickly. Rather than sapping energy reserves entirely, recovery from an illness will take less of a toll on the body if the person exercises regularly.
- Cardio-Respiratory and Cardiovascular Function. Frequent physical activity lowers the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. If the elderly person has hypertension, exercise will help lower their blood pressure.
- Bone Density and Risk of Osteoporosis. Exercise protects against loss in bone mass. Better bone density will reduce the risk of osteoporosis, lower the risk of falling and prevent broken bones. Post-menopausal women can lose as much as 2 percent bone mass each year, and men also lose bone mass as they age. Research done at Tufts University shows that strength training can dramatically reduce this loss, help restore bones, and contribute to better balance and less fractures.
- Gastrointestinal Function. Regular exercise helps boost your metabolism and promotes the efficient elimination of waste and encourages digestive health.
- Chronic Conditions and Cancer. Physical activity lowers risk of serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and colon cancer, to name a few. It also helps in the management of high cholesterol and arthritis pain.
A consistent exercise schedule is also associated with decreased mortality and age-related morbidity in older adults. In addition, a study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examined exercise in the elderly and found that training led to improvements in functional reach and balance and reduced the participants’ fear of falling.
What Exercises Can Seniors Do?
Often, frail elderly people are unable to tolerate aerobic exercise routines on a regular basis due to lack of endurance. But while age-related changes in the cardiovascular system have significant effects on performance, it has been estimated that 50% of endurance loss can be related to decreased muscle mass. The ideal senior exercise regimen consists of three components:
- Aerobic and Endurance Exercises
Physicians recommend 30 minutes of cardio-respiratory endurance exercise each day for your elderly mom or dad. This means getting their heart rate up and breathing faster. Walking, cycling and swimming are all examples of cardio/endurance exercises. If the person tires easily, especially those who are resuming a routine or just starting to exercise, it is perfectly acceptable to do three 10-minute periods of exercise daily.
Cardio-respiratory endurance exercise increases the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and remove waste over sustained periods of time. After exercising consistently for a few weeks, there will likely be an improvement in the person’s ability to exercise and ability to perform everyday tasks without getting winded and tired.
- Strength and Resistance Training
Strength training uses and builds muscles with repetitive motion exercises. Your elderly parent can do strength training with weights, resistance bands, nautilus machines or by using walls, the floor and furniture for resistance. Bodyweight exercises or calisthenics such as lunges, sit-ups and leg raises are also convenient options since they do not require any specialized equipment. Two to three strength/resistance training workouts a week will provide the greatest benefits. Exercise all muscle groups by doing 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions at moderate intensity. Individuals can progressively increase the size of weights used during workouts as their strength builds.
Strength training helps prevent loss of bone mass and improves balance. Both of these things will help seniors avoid falls and broken bones.
- Stretching and Flexibility Exercises
Stretching is vital to an exercise regimen. This helps muscles warm up and cool down gradually and improves and maintains flexibility, prevents injury, and reduces muscle soreness and stiffness.
Stretching can also function as a time for meditation and a time to appreciate how your body is feeling. Body and muscle awareness are useful skills that assist in safe mobility and physical activities.
Activities like yoga or Pilates can provide both useful stretches and strength training because they focus on isolating and developing different muscle groups. A number of exercise programs focus on developing a strong ‘core,’ a term which refers to the set of muscles connecting the inner stomach to the lower back and spine. Because the core muscles provide the foundation for all movement and strength, having a strong core can help with all movement, encourage better posture and reduce all over muscle pain.
Of course, there are some people whose physical abilities are limited by medical conditions or general frailty. These seniors have to go about exercise more carefully than others, but they do not have to dismiss it entirely. With proper instruction and guidance, the elderly can learn activities and exercises that improve mobility and strength. Exercise is even more important for frail individuals since they are the most prone to falling and broken bones.
Try activities in a class setting with proper supervision by a trained professional. Consider swimming or other water exercises that are low-impact and less jarring to the body. The local YMCA or YWCA are good places to start when looking for exercise programs that address special needs.
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But with the right exercises, you can protect your body and enjoy moving more.
“It isn’t just about getting in shape. It’s about issues of vitality and survival,” Dancer-fitness expert Celeste Carlucci says.
Carlucci was running a fitness program for young moms when she decided to offer the tag along grandparents a class of their own. She quickly discovered that routines geared to the issues dancers are most concerned about – alignment, strength, balance and coordination – can open up a whole new world of movement for people over 60 and also help prevent falls later.
Choreographing Your Everyday Life
Carlucci’s older students were having some movement issues; their old ways of doing things no longer worked. They needed to learn new sequences for everyday challenges like getting up off of the ground after playing with their grandkids or picking up something that had fallen on the floor and putting it on a high shelf. Some had trouble with arthritis in their shoulders or knees.
“I had to figure out how my movement background could make them more graceful and efficient in their daily lives,” said Carlucci.
She enlisted the help of an occupational therapist friend, and together they designed targeted exercises and movements that use a dancer’s formula for choreographing life’s routine movements, as well as building the strength, alignment, coordination and balance to prevent falls.
Ten years later, Carlucci works with about 200 students a week in her program Fall Stop…MOVE STRONG in New York City. Younger students in their 50s join the class as a preventative method so that by the time they’re in their 90s they’re at less risk for falling.
We asked Carlucci to show us some of the exercises she teaches in her program.
6 Move Strong Exercises
All of these exercises are great for alignment, strength, coordination and balance.
If you’re concerned about your balance, start the standing exercises while holding on to a sturdy chair or counter. Talk to your physician before beginning any other exercise program.
Stepping Over The Suitcase
A strength, balance and coordination exercise. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides and do 10 reps with you left foot. Be sure to lift your knees up high.
- Stand with your feet together, hands on hips.
- Lift your right foot up, to the side, and…
- down – as if you’re stepping over a large suitcase. (Move slowly to maintain your balance!)
A seated leg-strengthening exercise for the adductors and abductors. Repeat each movement 10 times.
- Sit tall with your buttocks on the edge of the chair, legs together, hands on the outside of your knees. Pull your navel toward the spine to engage your abdominal muscles.
- Open your knees and legs to the sides, resisting with your hands.
- Move your hands to the inside of your knees and squeeze knees close together while resisting with hands.
Reach Down and Reach High
A placement and coordination exercise. Use this balletic movement every time you have to bend down and pick something up or reach up to a high shelf.
- Put one foot behind the other and reach down to pick something off the floor. This provides a strong stance. The front foot will keep you from losing your balance and the back foot will catch you to prevent a dangerous fall.
- Bend both knees as you bend down.
- Now reach high to place something in a cupboard: Place one foot behind the other when reaching up with straight legs to provide balance.
Pump The Gas
Try this when you get up in the middle of the night or when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time.
- Sit up tall on the edge of your bed or chair.
- Point and flex your feet 5 times to get your blood flowing to prevent dizziness and possibly fainting.
A sharp staccato lunge forward with a mental picture of stopping activates muscles that help to stop a fall. Repeat 10 times, alternating legs. Each time you stop, say “STOP” out loud. This trains your muscles and mind to catch you if you trip.
- Hold onto a firm surface for support with one hand (a kitchen counter or sturdy chair works).
- Lunge forward with one foot and arm extended forward..
- STOP, return to starting position.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Strike a Pose
If it’s good enough for Madonna, it’s good enough for us!
- Do 10 sharp and strong freestyle moves in different directions. Anything you want to do is fine.
- Make them big to allow you to move with expression and regain confidence. Have fun!
Click here to visit Carlucci’s Move Strong website.
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