We all are witness to the changes our bodies go through as we get older. Our metabolism slows down, our eye sight gets a little weaker, or our joints ache a little more. The aging process take its toll on us in many ways, including a loss of muscle mass and decrease in bone density. We become less flexible and our balance declines as well.
Physical activity, including exercise, is important at any age, and seniors need to be active as well. But, whether it’s due to fear of injury or a misunderstanding that exercise needs to be strenuous, many seniors avoid physical activity. Forty percent of adults 45-64 years old live, what is a considered to be a sedentary lifestyle. This number jumps to 60% when you look at adults over 64 years old.
However, when you realize all the benefits of physical activity, you can understand why it’s especially important for seniors to be active.
Physical Health Benefits of Exercise
Exercise is most commonly known as a way to keep us fit and to avoid excessive weight gain. But, for seniors, exercise is about much more than just keeping a trim waist line. There are many additional physical benefits to exercise for those who are at advanced ages.
A consistent exercise routine can help to fight the progression of certain diseases that seniors are susceptible to including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis pain. Additionally, exercise can increase an individuals immunity to fight against viruses and infections.
A serious concern for seniors is falls, which can often lead to broken bones or other serious injuries. Muscle weakness and a loss balance are the biggest risk factors in falls. According to the Center for Disease Control, every 20 minutes an older adult dies from a fall. Through exercise focused on balance training and regaining muscle mass, the threat of falls can be reduced.
Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise
Beyond the physical benefits, there is proof that seniors need to be active for mental health benefits as well.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s affect nearly 5 million seniors, but there is opportunity to reduce the risk of these diseases by keeping physically active. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, and promotes cell growth. The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation has found that exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 50% and can slow the progression for those who have developed the disease.
Exercise is well-known for releasing endorphins that fight off depression and anxiety, and trigger positive feelings and mood. The social aspect of exercise also allows for seniors to increase social interaction with friends and other assisted living residents. Additionally, it helps them develop more self-confidence and be more independent.
Safely Introducing Seniors to Exercise
The first step an older adult should take before beginning an exercise program is receiving clearance from their doctor. By looking through an individual’s medical history, doctors can suggest what kind and how much physical activity a person can participate in without risk of injury or illness.
Because of the types of health issues most frequently seen in older adults, it’s recommended that exercise focus on four main areas: Strength, Balance, Flexibility and Endurance. These focus areas can include the following activities:
- Strength – lifting light hand weights, working with resistance bands
- Balance – simple sit/stand exercises, standing on one leg, heel raises
- Endurance – walking, stationary bike, climbing stairs, swimming
- Flexibility – stretching, senior yoga
Beginners should start with low-intensity activities and commit to only a short period of time. Although it’s recommended that seniors should be active for 150 minutes per week, it’s certainly acceptable to break this into more manageable, smaller periods of time throughout the week.
When involving seniors in an exercise program, warm-up and cool down are important. This allows their heart rate to gradually rise and then gradually come back down to a resting rate. It’s also incredibly important that participants stay hydrated.
Take a break immediately if you notice a resident is exhibiting any of the following signs during physical activity:
- an extremely flush or pale face
- pained facial expressions
- difficulty breathing or chest pain
- heavy sweating
Learn more ways to safely encourage your assisted living residents to participate in an exercise program. Look into our Exercise Essential and Finding Fitness training products.