Professionals working in health-care and in the wellness industry know that fitness and activity decrease the risk of major health diseases, while increasing energy and strength. This can be life-altering for seniors. A senior’s fitness level is often the difference between a vibrant, independent retirement and one faced with limitations and dependence.
How do we get seniors more fit and active? With a proactive approach. Most of us struggle to find the time and motivation to start a program, and keep working out and eating properly. Seniors are no exception, and have additional challenges. Here are ways to help seniors increase their strength, spirit, and independence:
Make it meaningful
Most people who are 60 plus didn’t grow up with Jane Fonda and the fitness club craze. Indeed, setting aside time for a workout and paying for it wasn’t the norm. For seniors especially, exercise must be meaningful. Success increases when you can relate the program to the person, which is best done through an interactive consultation process. Find out the daily tasks a person performs, ask about their hobbies, and learn the little things in life that are becoming more challenging – playing with grandchildren, caring for pets, doing personal errands. If you can identify activities someone wants to keep up with, and offer them a solution and hope for accomplishing it, then you might convince them to add exercise to their day.
Mimic everyday life
One of the best ways for seniors to exercise is to mimic daily movements – repeat things they do in a day as a way of ‘sport-specific’ training. This could be taking the stairs an extra flight each day, pushing out of a chair two or three times before getting up, pressing on the arms of a chair and pausing when getting up, even walking twice to the mailbox.
Progress at a gradual pace
Gradually add easy steps and exercises. Regardless of time available, new and healthy habits are tough to incorporate into a daily routine. Seniors don’t really have ‘all the time in the world’ because everyone has a normal daily routine, and adding anything new takes time and effort. So start small and gradually increase the amount of time and intensity of exercises.
Promote a positive balance
Each of the four main components of fitness – cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, and balance – should be part of a balanced fitness program. But cardiovascular often gets most of the press and priority. However, research now shows that strength is just as important, not only for bone density, but also for maintaining strength and metabolism. People think metabolism automatically slows down as we age. This is only partly true because the slowing of metabolism is primarily caused by muscle atrophy – losing it because we’re not using it! Keeping or building muscle on our bodies helps maintain resting metabolic rates (RMR). With seniors it’s never too late to work on those muscles.
Strong muscles become increasingly important as we age, and merit equal time and priority with cardiovascular activity. Muscles are also critical for balance, which becomes an increasingly important component as we get older.
Multi-task fitness programs
Traditional fitness programs can sometimes be time-consuming and boring. Being creative with ideas and options for fitness will accomplish a number of goals:
• Target multiple fitness components. Swimming, bowling or Nordic walking all involve cardiovascular activity, strength, flexibility, and balance
• Make it fun. Incorporate activities the senior enjoys, along with or as an option to traditional fitness training. People stick with things that are fun.
• Make it social. Fitness should be interactive, social, and fun. It should be an ideal opportunity to keep seniors active and engaged with their family, friends, and community.
• Make life more active. Create ways to incorporate activity into everyday life – walking for the mail or doing squats in a chair. It makes exercise convenient and requires no special time or equipment. It’s also meaningful and rewarding when seniors see how these exercises provide daily benefits.
Getting active is an ageless issue and yet, it becomes more critical as we age. The World Health Organization recognizes that sitting or lying for long periods of time poses a serious health risk. The Surgeon General’s Report in the U.S. said inactivity is a greater health risk than smoking. When 60 per cent of seniors are inactive, it’s clear that promoting activity should be a high priority. Thus, increasing fitness is a low-cost solution that offers valuable benefits and outcomes – energy, health, and independence.