Senior Fitness - The Basics
Fitness at any age is important and that goes for seniors too. Exercise guru Jack LaLanne lived well into his 90s by promoting and living a lifestyle where fitness was a daily activity.
Healthy aging requires knowledge and understanding of basic nutrition and exercise tips that can be used to keep senior muscles and bones toned and functioning at their optimal level. Just because your parent is elderly doesn't mean he or she can't exercise.
In fact, weight-bearing exercises such as strength training may help prevent conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and weakened bones and joints. This doesn't mean your elderly parent has to go to the gym and pump iron, but light dumbbells are certainly acceptable. Exercise helps any individual, including seniors, deal with stress and depression. The old saying, "use it or lose it" is especially true when it comes to seniors.
Exercise, including stretching, light strength training and cardiovascular exercise can help prevent or reduce confusion, inactivity, lack of coordination and balance as well as frailty in your aging parent. Exercise may also stave off illness, and reduce periods of forgetfulness or depression. Seniors can especially benefit from exercises that not only help keep Mom balanced in her chair, but Dad's optimism strong.
Never assume that seniors can't exercise. You're never too old to learn something new. Even seniors who find it difficult to walk from one end of the house to the other or get out of their wheelchair for any period of time can benefit from gentle exercise. You may be surprised to learn that in most cases, it's not the senior who declines to exercise, but adult children or caregivers who believe their parent is too feeble for exercise.
Encourage your parent to think about senior fitness and exercise, whether you take a walk with them to the mailbox, dance to a favorite song, or perform easy and safe household chores such as dusting, sweeping the porch, or wiping dishes.
Even individuals confined to wheelchairs can exercise; performing arm stretches, foot flexes, or shoulder and neck rotations. Stretching helps keep joints limber and lubricated. Range of motion exercises, regardless of how small, can keep joints toned, flexible and prevent contractures.
Some of the most common types of senior fitness include but are not limited to:
Different forms of exercise may help increase stability and balance in your parent. For example, Tai Chi has been studied in elderly individuals and has been proven to reduce their risk of falls by as much as 25%.
Exercise also helps to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure and may help reduce the need for many seniors to be placed on anti-depressant medications.
Whenever possible, encourage your parent to engage in a wide range of exercises, from flexibility to strength training to gentle aerobics and balancing exercises. For example, walking is one of the best aerobic exercises workouts that can help improve heart and lung function. Riding a stationary bicycle, swimming or just engaging in gentle water aerobics exercises may help relieve pain from arthritis, hip problems, and osteoporosis. The same type of movements may also be enjoyed at home by sweeping or mopping, raking leaves, and dancing.
Strength training for seniors doesn't mean six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Weight bearing exercises using small weights, rubber tubing or resistance bands or even common household objects like vegetable cans can promote joint health.
Flexibility can be enhanced through engagement of range of motion exercises as well as stretching and bending moves. Use supervision when necessary. Flexibility exercises such as active or passive range of motion may help to relieve stress and tension, encourage bone and muscle health, adequate function of tendons and ligaments and help to reduce the pain of bone and joint conditions.
When it comes to fitness for seniors, determine the capabilities of your parent and cater exercises or activities that will help increase their overall physical and mental well-being as well as their independence, strength and balance.
Please Note: Always consult with a medical professional before trying any exercise.