6 Ways to help older adults stay physically active as they age
Physical activity benefits health and wellbeing as we age. Here, a few simple, enjoyable, and safe activities to help you get started.
As we age, it can be hard to stay active. We’re less flexible than we were, and may not be as strong. We may get winded heading up a hill, or have trouble with our balance.
But this is exactly why it is so important to continue to exercise as we get older.
There are tons of benefits to staying physically active as we age, from reduced blood pressure to lower stress levels and diminished symptoms of anxiety and depression. The list of benefits goes on and on.
Here’s how to get going.
Low-level physical activity
It may not seem like much, but even walking around the house can make a huge difference in heart health as we get older. According to the Government of Canada, older adults who remain physically active can decrease their chance of heart attack and stroke. Cleaning the house, taking a stroll to the mailbox, and even walking from room to room are all low-level activities that make a big contribution toward heart and brain health.
Studies also show many elders have trouble with the word “exercise.” As physical abilities begin to decline in their later years, aging adults can start to see exercise as an overwhelmingly tall task. If you are coaching a loved one, whether parent or spouse, it may help to avoid the word altogether and opt for phrases like “having some fun outside” or “getting active.”
When we feel like we’re not performing as we used to, confidence boosters are a must. These confidence boosters are even more productive if they’re accomplished through physical activities. Encourage aging adults to set challenging yet easily attainable goals. Objectives like “standing for 30 minutes a day” or “walking to the corner and back” can eventually turn into “taking a long walk.”
Healthy aging with other older adults
In addition to stimulating brain and mental health, senior centres are one of the best resources you can find when it comes to keeping aging adults physically active. No matter where you are, you’ll find a local senior centre nearby. These facilities not only provide volunteer programs and organize social outings, many offer exercise classes as well. It’s not uncommon for your local senior centre to have trained staff on-site available to teach aging adults yoga, Tai Chi, swimming, and general aerobics classes. Some centres have opportunities for seniors to learn how to line, ballroom, or even square dance.
Sports that require manageable levels of physical exertion are perfect for older people. Golf is a great example—especially if someone has been playing throughout their lives. Bowling, a casual game of frisbee, or even a gentle version of pickleball can be great options.
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated at the ER for a fall. Aging adults may be averse to the idea of physical activity because of a perceived likelihood of a fall. In fact, physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of falling, as it improves agility and the ability to react.
That being said, there are some precautions to take when choosing the best exercises for fall prevention. First of all, talk to a doctor. The doctor can help identify health conditions that can increase the likelihood of falls, including eye and ear conditions. Medications and history of past falls can influence the probability of a future incident. In the event that an aging adult is more prone to falls, supervised water workouts are ideal.
Wearing the proper footwear is another safety tip for avoiding injury. Make sure you or your loved one are wearing shoes that fit correctly and have proper treads. There are types of shoes that can decrease joint pain as well, so consider shopping around for footwear that is both safe and practical for exercise.
Be aware of an older person’s environment
Many hazards that affect exercise for older adults have more to do with the surroundings than with a person’s own physical capacity. When coming up with physical activities, be sure the environment is safe. If it’s an outdoor activity, watch out for holes or errant balls near a sports field. If it’s hot out, consider taking the activity inside. It’s important to note that there can be dangers indoors as well. Remove glass tables or surfaces like small rugs or objects that can easily be slipped and tripped upon.
Every bit of physical activity helps when it comes to healthy aging. Using local resources like senior centres, finding an activity that piques your or your loved one’s interest, and staying safe all contribute to our ability to enjoy life in later years.
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