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mental health in older adults

National Senior Health & Fitness Day: Stay Active at Any Age

For many older adults, the past year has been a difficult one filled with social isolation and loneliness. It’s led to a more sedentary lifestyle and less time exercising, especially if their previous schedule involved going to a gym or working with a trainer. This, in turn, has triggered an overall decline in senior health, particularly in the areas of anxiety and depression.

Exercise can be the key to healthy aging, especially during pandemic times. Beyond improving mental health, exercise is important when it comes to strengthening the immune system and lowering risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and issues with cognition and memory. Movement and exercise are also vital for those with joint issues, pain and arthritis.

The good news is that with the weather breaking and COVID-19 vaccine access on the rise, it’s a great time to start fresh with a senior fitness program. Plus, with National Senior Health and Fitness Day just around the corner – on Wednesday, May 26th – it’s yet another reason to get moving. Where do you begin?

Start Small

When it comes to senior fitness, aim for around 30 minutes of physical activity per day to start. If that’s too much at once, break it up into smaller chunks. For instance, go for one 15-minute walk in the morning and one 15-minute walk in the afternoon. Work on improving your endurance and build up to exercising in full 30-minute blocks.

In addition, incorporate other activities into your day that add more motion and exercise. If you’re watching TV, for instance, take breaks to get up and move by doing things like:

  • Walking laps around your house
  • Simply stand up from a seated position several times during a commercial break
  • Use weights to do upper body exercises while watching TV

Over time, you’ll build up strength and be able to perform more exercises over longer periods of time.

Play Music

If you’re having a hard time getting started, turn the TV off and put on some upbeat music. This will give you the motivation you need to start moving, even if it’s simply stretching.

Beyond serving as a source of motivation, music can also help cognitively since it relieves depression and anxiety. In fact, according to Harvard Health, “bright, cheerful music can make people of all ages feel happy, energetic and alert, and music even has a role in lifting the mood of people with depressive illnesses.”

Music also helps those seniors with health conditions, like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies have shown music may reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues that are common in the middle-stages of the disease.

Find a Friend

As social creatures, it makes sense to find a friend to exercise with. If you have both been vaccinated and it’s safe to socialize, get a workout in together. This will keep you both motivated to stick to a schedule and be consistent with your senior fitness routine. Your exercise time will also be more enjoyable and go by faster as you’re chatting and socializing. As a result, your workout will not only boost your physical health, but your emotional and social well-being too.

Practice Balance

Each year, approximately 2.5 million older adults are treated for fall injuries in the U.S. The good news is there are some exercises to prevent falls and improve balance.

Standing on one foot or walking from heel to toe across a room are good options, as are leg raises. Strengthening the core can also help to improve overall balance. If you’re concerned that a loved one is at risk for a fall, there are medical alert systems to consider as well.

Make Senior Fitness Fun

Part of the reason fitness and exercise can feel like a chore is because it’s not fun for many seniors. However, there are ways to incorporate enjoyable activities. For instance, take a walk to a park and have a picnic with a friend there. Attend a fitness class or join a local gym or community center. Having a professional by your side can help ensure exercises are performed properly, lowering the risk for injury.

You can also participate in hobbies that are active, such as working in your garden. These keep you up and moving, while allowing you time to be outdoors and enjoy nature. Another option is to put on music and dance. This can be in a formal class or simply at home in your living room.

Find Workouts Online

If you or a loved one is comfortable going online for senior fitness workouts, there are countless ones to choose from. These can replicate what it’s like to work with a trainer or attend a fitness class. Everything from YouTube to Instagram, as well as paid subscription options, are available online.

Make sure when you use an online source for senior health and fitness, you stick with it and schedule it into your week. It’s easy to get started with a class or two and then let exercise fall by the wayside. If you commit certain days and blocks of time to working out, you’ll have a better chance of meeting your goals. Once exercise becomes a habit and a regular part of your routine, it’s easier to keep up with it.

Eat Well

Exercise and a healthy diet go hand in hand. While you’re focused on adding movement into your daily routine, it’s also important to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet.

Talk to your doctor about a diet that will work well for you or turn to a nutritionist to design one that best supports your needs. There might be a specialized one if you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. However, in general, your diet should be filled with fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy grains.

Staying active is a challenge at any age. As we get older, though, it’s even more important. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to many physical issues and trigger anxiety and depression. However, studies show that maintaining regular physical activity can prevent common diseases and boost immune function. Exercise also produces endorphins (the “feel good” hormone), which serve as a stress reliever.

If you’re concerned about a senior loved one and their physical health and activity, talk to their doctor about designing an exercise and nutrition program that’s right for them. It’s also a good time to perform a general health screening to check for any new issues and keep tabs on their overall health.

If you’re looking for caregivers who can help with your senior’s health and safety, contact your local FirstLight® Home Care today. We can meet the needs of your loved one, while promoting healthy habits and a more active lifestyle.

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