Staying active with age

By John Baldwin, FLT News Columnist

Zumba class? You bet. Tennis? Most definitely. Biking? Absolutely. Getting older and reaching retirement doesn’t mean you retire your body. Saying active in the golden years looks like everything from a brisk walk in the neighborhood to a mountain hike and everything in between.

Now that winter is over and longer, sunnier days are ahead, older adults can participate in a plethora of outdoor activities. Most people can exercise throughout their lives, even with conditions like arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. In many cases, physical activity may improve these health conditions. For each decade past age 30, inactive people can lose an average of three to five percent of their muscle mass, translating to loss of strength and mobility.

Regular exercise for the elderly (not just a batch of spring cleaning) is worth its weight in healthful benefits, including:

  • Less pain
  • More flexible joints
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Improved heart health
  • Strengthened bone density
  • Weight maintenance or loss
  • Better sleep
  • Increased mental sharpness

We see time and again how planned exercise and even the everyday activities like gardening and household chores keep senior adults moving and engaged in life. Plus, routine physical activity is mood-boosting and can make a person happier and more relaxed to be around. In a way, staying active benefits everyone.

Those age 50 and older are advised to check with their doctor before starting a regular activity routine. Seniors who experience issues with a heart condition, breathing, joint inflammation, blood pressure, dizziness or fainting should receive medical approval before increasing physical activity. A balanced fitness approach for older adults includes the following:

  • EnduranceCardio or endurance activities such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming or dancing builds physical resiliency. If needed, break exercise into 10-minute intervals.
  • StrengthResistance bands, weight lifting and wall pushups are ways to build muscles. Seniors with increased strength experience greater mobility and vitality for activities like mowing the yard or walking the dog.
  • BalanceTai chi, Pilates and yoga are excellent balance exercises as well as simply balancing on one foot behind a sturdy chair. Walking heel to toe and steadying on an exercise ball also are practical ways to increase core body stability.
  • FlexibilityStretching one’s muscles helps the entire body stay limber and move more freely.

For those recovering from surgery or illness or restricted from walking or putting undue strain on their joints, chair exercises can help. Simple chair exercises include doing arm circles, toe taps, and tummy and gluteus squeezes. Chair exercises can even be done outdoors on the patio or in the flower garden, all while absorbing essential vitamin D from the sun.

Whether a person is 18 or 88, staying consistent with exercise is a challenge of motivation and discipline. What if an aging loved one brushes off the idea of routine exercise? Several ways to coax older adults on to greater fitness health are:

  • Explain the healthful benefits. Encourage seniors with the facts of how regular physical activity is essential for better living as they age. No one is too old to exercise. Highlight the exercise advantages of easing joint stiffness and pain and improving energy and outlook.
  • Start small. Instead of overdoing it the first week and giving up entirely, opt for moderate pacing with activity. Seniors who have been inactive or have slowed down over the years need to gradually increase exercise challenges.
  • Be realistic. Heading to an aqua aerobics class several days a week will not match every older person’s interest or ability level. Make a written exercise plan that is doable and attainable and modify it as needed. Instead of aiming for half marathons in six months, just begin with strolls, then vigorous walks.
  • Choose the enjoyable. Exercise can be fun and something older adults truly look forward to each week. Suggest a variety of options and let your senior choose their top two or three preferred activities.
  • Garner the support of others. Enlisting an exercise buddy helps with exercise consistency and lifts the spirits with conversation and friendship. For seniors who receive a doctor-approved exercise program, Right at Home adult home care professionals can offer safety supervision.

A little soreness and discomfort is normal with active exercise, but if a person feels pain, it’s time to stop the exercise and rest. If the pain persists, consult with a fitness or medical professional before continuing physical activities.

The National Institute on Aging provides a list of fitness and nutrition resources including organizations, publications and websites designed for the wellness of senior citizens. Hospitals, senior and community centers, city recreation departments, fitness clubs and area parks often provide a variety of safe, affordable exercise options for older citizens including group classes, exercise stations and modified hiking trails.

With nature greening up for an active summer ahead, now is the time for older adults to refresh a regular physical exercise routine to keep up with the grandkids at the park or dance at the high school reunion. Zumba or tennis, anyone?

The Perrysburg Office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, Inc., serving the communities of Wood, Lucas and parts of Sandusky counties. For more information, contact Right at Home of Perrysburg at http://www.rahnwohio.com; 567-336-6062; or by email at jbaldwin@rahnwohio.com.