The benefits of regular exercise are well documented. Exercising can reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels, improve cholesterol levels and brain function, and lower the risk of arthritis and osteoporosis. Older people who exercise regularly have fewer age-related illnesses and often report better moods and more confidence.
However, up to 75 percent of senior adults miss out on these benefits. As a result, they put themselves at greater risk for health problems down the road.
“They get weaker and even less mobile, and their fear and risk of injury increases.”
“It’s a vicious cycle,” says Joe Gallagher, Physical Therapist and Director of Operation Support Services at VNSNY. “Somebody who has limited mobility says, ‘I can’t exercise much or at all. I might injure myself or I have fear of falling, so I’m going to stop.’ What happens is they get weaker and even less mobile, and their fear and risk of injury increases. So it’s key to increase your activity and break the cycle.”
A visit to the physician is the best place to start. A doctor can provide a referral to a physical therapist, who can tailor a program that takes into account mobility and health issues. A physical therapist might also have your loved one doing t’ai chi to improve balance, or modified Pilates to increase flexibility.
In addition, Gallagher suggests that seniors (and their caregivers) revise their definition of exercise. If you think it takes an hour of cardio followed by 30 minutes of lifting weights to make a difference in health, you may be surprised to learn that chair exercises, such as stretching arms overhead and pointing and flexing toes, can provide benefits!
Although doctors do recommend at least 30 minutes of daily exercise for most people, Gallagher says, “studies have shown that exercise in 15-minute increments, rather than long stretches, can have a beneficial effect.” So consider that 30 minutes a goal, not a starting point.