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Starting the Dialogue with Your Aging Parents: Let’s Get Moving

December 16, 2013

Over the past few months I’ve posted frequently about food, adequate nutrition and hydration, and the benefits of a healthy diet.  I honestly believe that the primary factor in maintaining a healthy body, regardless of age, is to eat a balanced diet of nutritious food in adequate amounts. The second factor is to drink enough water to keep the system hydrated at an optimal level for digestion, elimination, and cell regulation.

Today I would like to discuss the third factor which is physical activity.

There are many myths out there about physical activity. There are also many excuses why individuals decrease their physical activity as they age. Some of these are pain, lack of motivation, boredom, depression, and a dislike of exercise. Unfortunately, too many people buy into the idea that it is supposed to hurt as we age, that arthritis is normal, and that there is nothing to be done about the changes brought on by age.

HOGWASH!

If your aging parents or elderly clients are voicing these sentiments you owe it to them to set the record straight. In the news there are multiple examples of active seniors engaging in physical activities on a daily basis. Some of it is strenuous and more than is necessary for the average person, but all of it is important to physical health, regardless of age. You can help your parents enjoying a better quality of life by dispelling the myths about physical activity and age.

Here are some of the benefits of engaging in regular physical activity:

  • Weight loss The benefits of maintaining a healthy weight as we age are many leading to less risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancers, and primarily making it easier to get around.
  • Increased self-esteem When our self-esteem is intact we have better family relationships, social interactions, and are more engaged in enjoying life.
  • Greater satisfaction with life Life is meant to be lived with joy and full engagement–who wouldn’t want satisfaction with their life.
  • Increased energy With increased energy there is a stronger desire to be engaged in enjoyable activities. Natural body rhythms are easier to maintain and recognize such as hunger, thirst, and sleep/wake cycles.
  • Stress reduction, less anxiety, decreased depression Many seniors are on antidepressants and medication to reduce anxiety. If it can be done naturally through physical activity the complications of medication side effects are removed.
  • Improved muscle tone This leads to stronger muscles and better balance which decreases the risk of falls and therefore decreases bone fractures. Hip fractures are a major cause of senior citizens ending up in nursing homes or long term care facilities.
  • Increase joint flexibility A major reason for pain medication in seniors is loss of flexibility in the joints and increased arthritis. Pain medications can have major side effects such as dizziness (leading to falls), constipation (leading to the need for stool softeners), and dependency on the medication (which leads to higher doses and more risks). Isn’t it  logical to try to avoid the medications and handle the problem naturally through physical activity?
  • Stronger heart, lungs, muscles, and bones Physical activity is a great shield for keeping major illnesses and diseases at bay or reducing the effects if someone is diagnosed.

Unfortunately, we aren’t often told about all of these benefits when we’re younger or how physical activity can impact our health and well-being as we age. But now that you are aware you can encourage your aging parents and elderly clients to incorporate physical activity into their lives. It’s never too late to start.

When embarking on a physical activity it is important to have the right equipment (good shoes for one) and to start out slowly. A few minutes a day to get started and then building up slowly to a set goal will show much faster results than jumping right in and going overboard. Remember, it took years to build the problems faced as we age, they are not going to disappear overnight.

Some good guidelines are to start out slowly  with simple stretches and mild activity. When that level can be done with ease take it up a notch and add a few more minutes or additional activities. It has been shown that working up to 150 minutes a week of physical activity has decreased the risks of certain health issues and shown an improvement in strength, flexibility, and tone for participants of all ages and has even been shown to reverse the progression of some chronic diseases, pain, and depression.

Here are some suggested activities to engage in with high benefits:

  • Swimming and/or water exercises This is an excellent activity for those with pain and joint problems since the water offers resistance, but with a weightless feeling. The time and intensity can be increased as an individual tolerates.
  • Walking This can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any special equipment. Even in bad weather someone can walk in place or throughout the house. There are also groups who engage in mall walking during winter months and outdoor school tracks in better weather. Be sure shoes fit properly and are the right type of shoe for walking. Building up from a slow, meandering pace  to a brisk walk increases blood flow, strengthens the lungs and heart, tones muscle, and can be a great tension reliever. Find a calm, beautiful place to walk and you will have a new adventure every day.
  • Chair exercises, online videos, activity CDs The possibilities are endless. Your aging parents can engage in Yoga, Tai Chi, Zumba, dance moves, Aerobics or whatever piques their interest. With this type of phsyical activity they can engage in something different every day for variety and fun. 

So, now that I’ve given you some ideas it’s your job to get out there and encourage your parents or elderly clients to get moving. Of course, all of the benefits are available to you as well so why not tag along with them!

Have you had some form of success in getting your aging parents or elderly clients up and moving? I’d love to hear your story. Feel free to leave comments. Let’s get healthy!

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