Everyone benefits from exercise. From preschoolers to the elderly, staying active can have a positive impact on physical and mental health. Staying active is especially important for seniors, and has clear health benefits. But it can be easy to slip into a sedentary lifestyle as we get older.
By age 75, one-third of men and half of women engage in no physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Many factors may limit dad’s motivation to exercise. But as adult children and caregivers, there are many ways we can help.
How Much Activity Do Seniors Need?
The general guideline for seniors (and other adults) from the US Department of Health and Human Service is 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate exercise each week or 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity each week. This is a piece of cake for active seniors. However, for elderly adults and seniors with chronic conditions, exercising at this level may not be possible. HHS guidelines advise seniors and caregivers to consider age, fitness level, and chronic illness when planning an exercise program. But even the elderly and seniors with chronic disease can benefit from a modified exercise program. Seniors should do what they can (based on their fitness level): even if it’s just taking a short walk. According to the CDC, if adults have been sedentary, it’s important to start gradually. Physical activity doesn’t need to be strenuous to have benefits. Walking, gardening, tai chi, and gentle yoga are all popular activities for older adults.
What Are the Benefits of Exercise for Seniors?
The physical, emotional, and social benefits of physical activity for seniors are clear. In a nutshell, staying active helps us stay stronger and feel better. According to the CDC, exercise:
- Supports independent living and reduces the risk of injuries from fall
- Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer
- Maintains healthy bones, muscles, and joints
- Can help control arthritis-related pain and swelling
- Benefits seniors with chronic conditions by improving stamina and muscle strength
- Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and can boost mood and increase well-being
Under normal circumstances, exercise can also be a great source of social connection for dad. Walking with friends, group classes like water aerobics, joining a gym, or taking dance classes at a local senior center can all help dad connect with others.
How Can I Help My Aging Parent Get Moving?
One of the problems family members often encounter is that an elderly loved one is resistant to exercise. Dad may be accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, worried about injury, or just feeling unmotivated. Here are some tips for family members to help loved ones get moving:
- Make an exercise plan with dad and check in regularly for accountability.
- Plan exercise at a time of day when dad is most energetic and stick with it.
- Start with easy activities like walking. Take a ten-minute walk with dad to get things rolling. When possible, make time to join him on a walk when you can.
- Find activities that aren’t dependent on good weather. Find an exercise bike dad can use at home or help him get set up for online fitness, yoga, or tai chi classes.
- Once social distancing guidelines are removed, help dad find local groups or classes. These can be motivating and a source of social connection.
Exercise for Seniors in a Care Setting
In long term care or short term rehab, keeping residents active and upbeat can have a significant impact on the quality of life. In addition to physical therapy and indoor exercise, outdoor walks can be health boosters and mood lifters. At Evergreen Health & Rehab, we offer a full gym and rehab center to help residents get the activity they need. Everyone can get moving in line with their abilities, including elderly patients and residents with chronic illness. Our ZeroG Gait and Balance System offers bodyweight support and fall protection for patients who might not otherwise be able to move safely. We also provide beautiful outdoor areas for short walks and fresh air. Activity is important than ever for seniors’ physical and mental health. Just as loved ones work to keep family members fit at home, Evergreen works to keep residents moving for better health and well-being.