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The Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults: Tips on Planning Effective Activity and Exercise Schedules

Staying physically active and participating in daily exercise routines can contribute to older adults' emotional and physical well-being. Taking part in physical activities, such as going on daily walks to a favorite park, planting a small garden, dancing to a favorite tune, or joining a Zoom yoga class, are beneficial to physical and emotional health.

The Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is essential for healthy aging. Staying physically active improves the quality of life and contributes to seniors being able to remain more independent as they age. Physical activity can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Participating in moderate-intensity exercise also reduces the risk of developing certain types of cancers. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, participating in 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week reduces the risk for seven different types of cancers: colon, breast, kidney, endometrial, multiple myeloma, liver, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.   

Despite the many benefits provided by actively participating in physical activities, only 28-34 % of American adults ages 65 to 74 are considered physically active, according to Facts & Statistics - Physical Activity, a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Unfortunately, the increased isolation many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting physical inactivity, have negatively impacted older adults, especially those who live alone. 

Family caregivers can help reduce sedentary behavior and physical inactivity by encouraging senior loved ones to participate in daily activities and exercise routines. Before starting an exercise routine, make an appointment with the senior's physician to determine if any limitations or physical conditions need to be addressed first. Ask the physician for information regarding the types of exercises and physical activities that best meet the person's needs and abilities.

Elicit the senior family member’s input when planning and scheduling activities, whenever possible. Crafting a well-thought-out schedule with reasonable goals can help seniors adhere to a weekly activity program. To be effective, the plan needs to meet the health needs of the participant. Offering support, encouragement, and companionship can also help to increase participation. 

Helpful Tips for Crafting Effective Exercise and Activity Schedules

  • Which exercises should be added to the schedule? If possible, include a combination of four types of exercises in the weekly physical activity schedule, ones focused on endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. If you're unsure about the types of exercises to start out with, consult with a physician to help identify those activities that will best meet the older adult's health needs. 

  • What type of equipment is needed? Before going out and spending money on unnecessary equipment, decide what type of exercise or combination of activities will be included in the weekly schedule. Set aside appropriate exercise shoes, easy-to-care-for exercise clothing, and even wearable technology devices, such as a fitness tracker or a pedometer, if needed. 

  • Maintain continuity when scheduling activities. Continuity in scheduling helps everyone adhere to an activity plan and reduces anxiety because everyone knows what to expect, how to prepare, and when to start. However, it’s also helpful to have an alternative plan in place, should weather or other conditions impact a scheduled activity.

  • Offer companionship! If older parents or family members do not want to be alone on their daily walks or other activities and need companionship and assistance, include a dependable family member or a trained caregiver who can offer assistance and encouragement. Having an exercise partner increases much-needed social communication. Be mindful to follow required social distancing guidelines and wear a face mask whenever this is needed or is still required.

  • Follow health and safety protocols. When going to a park or outdoor recreational area, always follow park safety rules and current CDC recommended guidelines. When exercising outdoors, select parks or local trails where you can easily stay 6 feet or more away from other pedestrians and cyclists. Before making a trip to a favorite park, always call the local park services department to inquire about current safety protocols, social distancing, and the use of face masks. 

  • Don’t rush or overdo it with a packed schedule of activities. Variety is great, but take it one step at a time. Limit the number of physical activities when starting out. Don’t rush anyone! It’s essential to avoid causing frustration, especially when some seniors may not have been able to exercise in a while. Value each step they take and praise them as they move along to reach their activity goals!

Encourage senior family members to stay physically active and engage in fun exercise activities. Spring is right around the corner, and temperatures are warming up!  

Should you need assistance in caring for a senior loved one, contact Senior Helpers Orlando. Call us at (407) 628-4357. Senior Helpers Orlando provides in-home health care services, respite care, and Alzheimer's care services in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.

 

Ana P. De Lane

Senior Helpers Orlando Team Member

 

Sources and references:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Visiting Parks and Recreational Facilities, Protect 

Yourself and Others From COVID-19, ACT NOW! https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html

Matthews, E.C., et al. (2020). Amount and Intensity of Leisure-Time Physical Activity and Lower Cancer 

Risk, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 38(7), pp 686–697. https://ascopubs.org/doi/10.1200/JCO.19.02407

Simon, S. (2020). Study: Getting Enough Exercise Lowers Risk of 7 Cancers, American Cancer Society. 

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-getting-enough-exercise-lowers-risk-of-7-cancers.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Facts and Statistics (Physical Activity). 

https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html