Exercise: Every Little Bit Helps!

Is "get more exercise" on your list of New Year's resolutions? Maybe you are caring for an older adult who has slowed down quite a bit? Here are some things you should know.

Happy smiling senior people with nurse shows finger up after success  exercise treatment

Exercise doesn’t need to feel like a chore. So for so many of us, why does it? A recent poll published in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine suggested one culprit: school gym class. Apparently, the PE classes of yesteryear turned quite a few people off of exercise for life. Years later, the people interviewed recalled boring calisthenics, yelling teachers, uncomfortable comparisons with others, and the humiliation of being picked last when teams were chosen … to say nothing of embarrassment and bullying in the shower room. For many of us, physical fitness seemed like an unpleasant obligation that we were quick to abandon once we weren’t being graded.

That’s too bad, because study after study shows that staying physically active is the top factor when it comes to healthy aging. Exercise strengthens our muscles, heart and lungs. It staves off a host of diseases. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brains, as well. For example, you’re probably familiar with those “tip of the tongue” memory lapses where you find yourself saying “Wait, wait, don’t tell me!” A 2018 study from the University of Birmingham in the UK found that seniors who exercise regularly struggle much less to find words to express themselves.

So this year, resolve to break up with your old attitude and develop a new relationship with exercise. Here are five things to remember as you give your fitness routine a makeover:

Getting started may be the hardest part. You might first need to overcome an aversion to exercise. This isn’t just a matter of habit; scientists point out that our ancestors had to work pretty hard for a living—hunting, gathering, planting and harvesting. They didn’t have calories to spare! So for most of us, there’s an inborn tendency to want to rest. But with regular exercise, our bodies begin to crave the good feeling we get when we move.

Exercise isn’t only for athletes. There’s an exercise plan for people of every ability. Seniors who are living with a disability, such as mobility challenges, vision and hearing loss or dementia, should ask the doctor about a program of adapted activities. Get a “prescription” for the amount and type of exercise that is right for your overall health, including any health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or arthritis, that might make certain motions and activities unsafe for you. Before you sign up for an exercise class or gym membership, be sure the instructors are qualified for your needs.

Exercise with a friend. A 2018 study from the University of British Columbia found that older adults are much more likely to be active if they work out with a buddy—and especially, noted the researchers, if the other person is near their age. Check out exercise classes at the senior center, your senior living community or parks and recreation department.

No need for a marathon. Studies show that several shorter workouts every day can be just as effective as a longer session. Anything that gets us moving is good. A recent study from Tufts University on a group of seniors aged 70—89 who hadn’t been exercising found, “Adding 48 minutes of moderate exercise per week is associated with improvements in overall physical functioning and decreases in risks of immobility in older adults who are sedentary.” Walking, dancing, gardening, even doing housework provide small doses of exercise that can add up. Tai chi and yoga also offer a surprising amount of strength building, and help prevent falls. The main thing is to find a safe, effective exercise program—and here’s the key to success—that you enjoy.

It’s good for caregivers, too. A second 2018 study from the University of British Columbia found that family caregivers who exercised regularly had reduced stress, better cardiorespiratory fitness, a healthier body weight—and they were even healthier on the cellular level, with changes to their chromosomes that are believed to slow cellular aging.

Home care can help

When it comes to keeping seniors active, professional home care services can be a big plus. The caregiver can provide supervision and encouragement during exercise at home, or take clients out to an exercise class, to the pool, or for a walk at the mall when it’s too cold, too hot, or raining.

The University of British Columbia study on exercise for caregivers found that many say there just isn’t time for it. Said lead researcher Prof. Eli Puterman, “What caregivers need is support for healthy behaviors, because that is one of the first things to drop when you become a family caregiver. The time to take care of yourself just goes out the window.”

With a professional caregiver taking over some of the personal care, health care management and other tasks, this frees up precious time so family caregivers can focus on their own health—and that includes exercise.

Get some more great exercise ideas and give your brain a workout, too, with the “Make Exercise Your Top Resolution for 2018” wordfind puzzle, in this issue of the Assisting Hands Hand in Hand e-newsletter.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2018.