By Jennifer Gibbons, LCSW, Adult & Senior Care Advisor
Which of the following doesn’t belong? Running, rowing, swimming, shuffleboard, hurdles.
When it comes to exercise and seniors, it may surprise you to know that any form of physical activity can benefit physical and mental health- even activities like shuffleboard and horseshoes. There’s a meaningful difference between physical activity and physical exercise. Physical exercise is planned, structured, and repeated, such as training for a 5K or lifting weights in a number of repetitions and sets. Physical activity includes tasks which might be done on a regular basis, such as walking a dog or gardening. Both physical exercise and physical activity benefit not only the body but also the mind.
A team of researchers from six universities studied the effects of exercise on those with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. The team concluded that, “…physical activity may help to preserve hippocampal volume in individuals at increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease” and recommended that “…individuals at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease should be targeted for increased levels of physical activity as a means of reducing atrophy in a brain region critical for the formation of episodic memories.”[i] Essentially, physical activity can protect against cognitive decline and brain atrophy in those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
So should your 85-year-old mother begin training for a half marathon? Probably not, but many exercises can be modified to accommodate medical conditions and remain safe and beneficial for seniors. The National Institute on Aging highlights four areas of fitness for seniors, including balance (exercises to help prevent falls), stretching (staying flexible and limber), strength (building muscle tone), and aerobic activity (increasing the heart rate and blood flow throughout the body).[ii] With seniors, it’s important to expand the concept of exercise to include those activities that target any of these areas of fitness.
The most important way to get started exercising is with a visit to the doctor. Physical and occupational therapists can be very helpful, recommending ways to modify exercises to better suit and expand-upon existing abilities. Employing a certified personal trainer with experience working with seniors is also a good option. Think creatively about what will get your mother engaged in physical activity or exercise. If possible, start with an activity or exercise that your mother previously enjoyed. If full-court tennis isn’t possible now, perhaps playing doubles or table tennis might appeal to her. Lead by example and offer to join her in these activities when you visit. You may find new ways to reconnect, while helping your loved one stay healthy and active in their own way.
Need help getting your elder loved one re-engaged in life?
Call Care.com for personalized guidance and assistance.
Care.com’s Adult and Senior Care Advisers are experienced, masters-level social workers.
Call us today at (855) 781-1303 and we’ll be happy to help with your senior care challenges.
[i] Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 2014; 6: 61.Published online April 23, 2014.http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00061/full