Every year when the clock strikes midnight, people all over the world make resolutions about things they will do to improve their lives during the new year. For many, this means vowing to get a bit healthier. Unfortunately, many older adults who would like to improve their health feel like exercise isn’t for them.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The reality is that there are things everyone can do to move their bodies, build strength, and improve their overall health.
“I think a lot of people have this preconceived notion that exercise has to be this big, grandiose thing where you move for an hour and a half and sweat,” said Nate Gobel, a physical therapist for Intrepid USA Healthcare in Edina, Minnesota. “Really, any type of movement is beneficial, whether it’s a 10-minute walk or a two-hour run.”
He urges people to begin to shift their mindset about health by building an exercise program that works for them.
“When we get older, it’s harder to hold onto muscle mass and stay active,” Gobel said. “Even a small amount of activity, daily or two or three times per week prevents progressive decline, muscle mass, and balance while improving mental health.”
Erin Fontana, a physical therapy assistant at Intrepid Healthcare USA in Bartlett, Tennessee, said one of the best exercises anyone of any age can do is walk.
“It’s more natural and you don’t have to worry about learning how to do it,” she said. “Walking keeps your respiratory and circulatory systems healthy.”
But that doesn’t mean that walking and running are the only two exercise options, especially for those with limited mobility.
“Exercise can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it involves movement,” Gobel said. “Anything can be scaled, so everybody is going to get a little different experience. There’s no reason someone can’t participate in an exercise class while sitting in a chair.”
Chair exercises can include many familiar fitness activities, including seated weightlifting, leg raises, heel slides, stretching, and sit-to-stands. These activities can allow people to safely create a program that builds strength, promotes balance, and improves overall health.
But things like mopping, doing the dishes, and other housekeeping activities can also be part of a strong home exercise routine. Fontana said that in addition to getting moving, the other major key to maintaining a successful exercise routine is accountability.
“It’s important to be accountable in the beginning,” she said. “They’re more likely to go walking with a friend or a spouse than they would to just go to the gym. Once you pass the six-month mark, your body is ready to continue, and your mind is as well.”
She said it’s important to be gentle with yourself when beginning this process.
“The best advice I have is to is it’s OK to make mistakes and start over – though you’re not really starting over because you already know what to do,” Fontana said. “It’s going to happen, and you need to forgive yourself.”
Be sure to consult your doctor before you begin any new exercise regimen, especially if you recently had surgery, recent injuries, or can’t perform an exercise with the correct posture or position.
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