Now that it is already July, the summer is definitely in full swing. The weather is warm and sunny, with the occasional thunderstorm, and the sun is shining. This time of year I just cannot wait to get outside! There is so much to do, from walking, hiking, biking, swimming, to relaxing with a good book and a glass of iced tea. This time of year is perhaps our most active time. During the long winter months with short days and inclement weather, it takes a whole lot of motivation and gumption to get this girl out the door or even to the basement to workout. Before we get too gloomy, let’s focus on this beautiful time of year and let’s get moving!
Exercise is so important for people of all ages. It is important for my husband and me to keep our bodies fit with a healthy diet and regular exercise; and its important for you too. Exercise helps us to feel better during the day, it energizes us to keep up with our daily activities (in our case our little girls), and it helps us to sleep better. It’s important for our parents who are wrestling with slower metabolisms and increasingly familiar aches and pains. Exercise helps encourage weight loss, it charges up gains in energy, and can even help to relieve many of the everyday pains that most Americans believe are just part of growing older. My grandfather is living in a Veterans Home in Oklahoma, and he loves his physical therapy. His therapist easily gets his body moving every weekday and encourages him to keep moving, as much as he can. Even my 1½-year-old toddler loves to move and shake. Exercise is truly good for the body, any body, regardless of age or physical limitations. Let your mantra be “Do what you can, as much as you can!”
Let’s talk about how to best help the older adults in our lives move more. First of all, it is so important for them to stay active, even if the definition of active is different from what you or I might first think of. To start, it’s important to not push too hard and risk injury. It may take a few weeks for your loved one to work up to the point of doing some of the recommended time and/or exercises listed here. Be patient. It is well worth the wait and the process for them to become healthier, happier, and more self-confident. There are four main categories of exercise that we will cover here. With all of these categories, remember, start small and work your way up by exercising regularly and increasing intensity gradually.
The first two categories I want to talk about are balance and flexibility. These are not usually the first to pop into peoples’ minds when you mention exercise, but they are just as important.
Balance Exercises promoting balance are particularly important for older adults, especially those who spend a significant amount of time sitting or laying down. Even older adults who are not as sedentary can still find they are afraid of falling or have fallen in the past. Balance exercises can help them to become more confident and help to strengthen their bodies. You can practice these exercises everyday and every little bit helps! Some examples of balance exercises include walking a straight line (use painters tape to create a straight path), use a chair to hold on to while balancing on one leg, high knees (marching exercise), and heel to toe walking. Remember to always use proper equipment to help your loved one while they practice their balance. If they become dizzy or lightheaded, stop immediately and let them sit down to regain their composure before beginning again.
Flexibility Exercises that will help to decrease and reduce muscle soreness and stiffness are those that improve flexibility. When included as a part of a regular exercise program, flexibility exercises can also help to prevent injury. As a woman living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I can tell you that it also helps to warm up and relieve stiffness that I feel in my joints, especially in the morning. It is important to focus on all the major muscle groups including, legs (thighs and calves), back, arms, and shoulders. The smaller muscles can be just as important to how someone feels and can be targeted specifically and regularly also. For example, my hands and wrists are very stiff from RA, so I focus on opening and closing my hands a few times before I get out of bed. I always manipulate my fingers as far back as I can (without force) and spread them apart as far as I can. I also gently roll my wrists and rock my fists forward and backward a few times. This helps to get more blood flowing to these areas and helps my muscles and joints get ready for the tasks ahead. This same sort of manipulation/hyper-extension can be applied GENTLY to any joints.
The next two categories are the more common and they are aerobic/endurance exercises and strength/resistance exercises.
Aerobic and Endurance These exercises should be done regularly to total 150 minutes per week for older adults. See the following link: http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/ex_092210_03.shtml
This can look like 20 min/day for all seven days of the week; 30min/day for five days of the week; or 50 min/day for only three days of the week. It can be helpful for older adults to start with only ten minute segments at a time usually with significant breaks in between. For example, if they walk for ten minutes in the morning, it may not be until after dinner that they walk another ten minutes. If they prefer organized classes the class may be 30+ minutes and will fulfill their time for that day. Some activities could include, water aerobics, walking, jogging, or tennis. Walking is the single easiest, no equipment or class necessary, exercise that you can do for yourself. If you can only walk for five minutes, do it. Then do it again, and again, until you reach your daily goal. Use your assistance devices, if needed, and “Do what you can, as much as you can!”
Strength and Resistance It’s a common fallacy that strength and resistance exercises require heavy gym equipment. Everyday objects can be used for resistance; the most important of which is your own body. You can also use walls, furniture, resistance bands, hand weights and of course gym equipment. For older adults, something as simple as a can of fruits or vegetables can be enough weight to work and strengthen your muscles. (i.e. smaller cans weigh a few ounces up to the larger cans weighing about two lbs., perfect for light resistance and weight training.)
All major muscle groups will need to be exercised and strengthened. Exercises should target all the major muscle groups and should be performed two to three times a week with at least one day in between as a rest day. If you choose to weight lift each day or more than three days per week, try alternating which muscle groups you are working so that each gets a rest day.
For example, if you work your legs on Monday, then Tuesday focus on your shoulders and arms, rest Wednesday, then Thursday shift the focus to your back and Friday your core. Then you will be free to enjoy the weekend and rest up for the next week. These exercises can help to prevent loss of bone mass and improve balance. Again, “Do what you can, as much as you can!”
Everyone’s ability and activity level will be different, and those who have limitations should seek out the proper support and help when attempting any exercise. Please, for you and your family, don’t let it stop you from doing something. It can be challenging, and at times discouraging, but hang in there. A little bit of work every day is much better than no work, any day. Like most things in life, your health is worth fighting for!
Ashley Gonzalez is writing for PA HOME CARE of Lancaster. She lives in northern Pennsylvania with her husband Rich and their two beautiful daughters, Alana and Elise. We look forward to more interesting and thoughtful articles from her. She brings a wealth of personal knowledge as well as a degree in medical studies from Liberty University.