Exercise to Feel Alive
As parents age and decline in health, it is easy to assume that regular exercise is unrealistic and may be harmful. On the contrary, regular exercise tailored to the ability of the elder maintains and even restores health. No matter what age a person is, inactivity causes physical decline.
Whether your parent is in good health or bedridden, it is important to encourage or begin an exercise regimen. Ideally, exercise incorporates an aerobic component to strengthen the heart and lungs, as well as movement to develop flexibility. Most importantly, exercise should be tailored to your elder’s strengths and limitations.
How do you get an elder parent to exercise?
- General expectations play a role. If your elder is able to perform a task, allow him or her to do it. Be patient, not overprotective. Allow elderly persons to help themselves. Doing so gives a feeling of competence despite physical loss.
- Incorporate exercise into your regular visits. Take a walk, use an exercise DVD, or sit across from your elder and practice some gentle movements as you visit. Playing music can help the movement come more naturally.
Consider these safety guidelines:
- If your elder has a serious medical problem, inform his or her medical provider of the exercise regimen. Ask the provider to recommend appropriate exercise if you’re in doubt.
- Good routines take effort, but shouldn’t cause shortness of breath or pain.
- Start slowly and build endurance gradually.
- Avoid rapid or abrupt changes in position.
- Take frequent rests and focus on slow, even breathing.
For those elders able to move about freely, many formal and informal exercise programs exist. Nearly every community has elderly exercise programs through churches, senior centers or park districts. Libraries are a rich source of videotapes or DVDs covering gentle aerobics, yoga and tai chi.
Encourage elders to continue normal daily activity and housework. It may be tempting to relieve a parent of a task, but don’t. Combing one’s hair flexes shoulders and upper arms. Sweeping the kitchen floor provides movement that maintains physical strength and mobility.
For an elder confined to a chair, numerous exercises can be done from a sitting position. Bedridden individuals can exercise actively or passively, with someone moving or assisting the elder to move body parts.
If you are considering housing options, observe their activity programs. Does the staff patiently allow the elder to participate in care or do they do for the elder to save time? If an elder is bed bound, discuss with the staff how the care plan incorporates movement and exercise into daily care.
The benefits of exercise include improved circulation, alertness, mental function, mobility and sleep, and less pain and risk of falls. Even very late in life, exercise creates a sense of being truly alive.