Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fitness for the Elder Years

Exercise needs to be the life work 
of those who wish to enjoy their elder years.

Fitness is the key to enjoying the Elder Years of life.  An active exercise program needs to become the life work of the aging if they wish to be healthy and strong enough to really enjoy their elderly years.  Many seniors and elderly can expect to live much longer due to advances in health care, but longevity without quality of life isn’t much fun.  That is where exercise comes in. 

Exercise adds to quality of life in many ways.  It can energize moods, relieve stress and help manage the symptoms of illness or pain as well as improve the overall sense of well-being. Besides that it is a lot of fun!

Many people envision exercise as high powered and intense.  That is not what seniors and the elderly really need.  The aging do not require strenuous workouts to reap great benefits from exercise.  It really is about adding a variety of movement and activity to one’s daily life.  Having a healthy mix of cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance will improve overall health keep exercise fresh and fun. Here are some things to try:

ü    Cardio Endurance Exercise - Using large muscles in rhythmic motions over a period of time, Cardio will get your heart pumping.  Cardio doesn’t necessarily mean doing high impact aerobics but can include walking, climbing stairs, hiking, cycling, rowing, tennis, and dancing.  Benefits include lessening fatigue and shortness of breath and a general improvement in endurance.  Cardio improves overall endurance for daily tasks such as walking, cleaning the house and getting out and about independently.

ü    Strength Training Exercise – This type of exercise builds up muscles with repetitive motion using light weights or resistance bands.  Strength training for the elderly isn’t about pumping iron but more about preventing loss of bone mass and preserving muscle tone.  It also improves balance and reaction speed which is important in preventing falls.  Strength training will improve walking speed and gives that extra boost for making day-to-day activities, like carrying groceries or doing household chores, so much easier.  Strength training is important to maintaining independence long term.

ü  Flexibility Exercise – Increase flexibility through either stationary or full range motion stretches.  Keeping the joints and muscles supple means enjoying a full range of motion as well as guarding against injury.  Yoga is an excellent way to increase flexibility, stay limber and increase range of motion.  Flexibility is necessary for simple tasks like turning to look behind while driving, reaching for things over your head or near the floor and playing with the grandkids.

ü    Balance Exercise – Improve posture and stability, the ability to walk or move easily and reduce the risk of falls by working on balance exercises.  Tai Chi and yoga both use a combination of poses with breathing to work on balance.  This type of exercise will increase confidence and reduce the risk of falls.

Slowing down as we enter the elder years is really not a wise move.  The aging need to see that the ultimate goal is maintaining independence and enjoying their later years are best achieved through maintaining an active lifestyle with daily exercise.  Finding a combination of exercises that suits your abilities and needs will add immeasurably to quality of life and make the Elder Years a wonderful time.  

Kate McCarthy is Director of Operations for HomeAid Health Care which provides services for the elderly who wish to remain safe and independent at home.  HomeAid is sister company to Prairie Home Assisted Living which has served the physical, spiritual, mental and health needs of their Residents since 1999.  Together the two family owned companies provide comprehensive care for the elderly in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin.