Most of us would have to be living under a rock to not know daily exercise is important, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 80% of us do not get the exercise we should.
The CDC has set up guidelines telling us we should be exercising in some type of aerobic activity (moderately) at least 2 ½ hours per week. We can exercise for less time if it is more intense – about 1 ½ hours per week. And, we should also do some type of strength exercising like weight lifting, push-ups, calisthenics, etc. at least twice a week.
For caregivers and seniors, this can be tough to do. For one thing, if you are taking care of someone else, you may simply not have time to exercise for yourself. For another, your elderly relative may have some serious limitations regarding physical activity. Kind of like the mantra, “eat your vegetables,” we often just shrug off this “nice idea” of “doing something healthy” and assume that there are no real consequences. But there are.
What if instead of sitting around wondering what to do, you guys exercised together? It would be great! Why?
Exercise Keeps You Healthy
The reality is, people who exercise regularly have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, cancer, aches and pains, arthritis, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. A Harvard Medical School Study estimates that inactivity is now causing more deaths worldwide than smoking! We also know that exercise helps with good posture, maintaining bone density, flexibility, mobility, and mental health.
The research and experiences of many are pretty clear. If you want to feel better, look better, and be healthier – you need to exercise. Case Closed.
But, the question becomes, why exercise if I can’t meet the recommended daily levels? The great news is that as long as it is regularly done, safely increasing your level of fitness is going to get you some benefits in relation to how much you can do. So even if you just exercise a little at first, it is better than nothing. As you get more fit, you will likely be able to do more.
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Make Sure You Are Both Healthy Enough for Exercise
Before you do anything suggested here, you need to check with your doctor. For some, starting a new exercise program can be risky or cause a worsening of certain conditions. If the doctor says you’re healthy enough for exercise, ask him or her to make suggestions for a program that would work for you. Or, you can tell the doctor what you are thinking of doing and get the okay. Many chronic conditions and illnesses improve with regular physical activity – but some do not and may even get worse. So, it is really important to not skip this step.
Start Small for the Long Haul
While it is neat to go running once, your body will not reap the benefits like it would if you run a little every day. This is true of all types of exercise. Our bodies, even in advanced age, will get stronger as we do regular exercise. Our cardiovascular system becomes more capable as we go and our flexibility improves, and our muscles respond as well. It takes time and the time it takes can be longer as we age, but if you keep at it, regular exercise will likely make your body stronger and more resilient. But, it will not work in spurts.
So, fitness coaches recommend that you start very small. Most people can do some chair exercises or walk for 5 minutes. If that is what you do every day, fantastic! It is a great place to start. You do not have to start off running a marathon. Keeping a regular exercise habit is more important than exactly what you do each time.
Now, there are so many online resources for elderly and senior fitness. Check out some of these sites for ideas:
Senior Workout Plans - a serious plan for overall fitness routines
Strong Seniors - Great website full of tips plus you can purchase exercise videos for elderly and seniors
Yoga 4 Seniors - Offering videos for senior Yoga
There are also tons of exercises online for things like better posture and chair exercises you can try today:
Do it Together
Not all workouts will work perfectly for both you and the senior you are caring for. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t work out together. The benefits of this are numerous. For one thing, it saves time. If you are short on time because you have to care for someone, this can be done while you are there! It also offers an activity that you can both look forward to and enjoy together. Sometimes it is hard to find things you both can enjoy doing and this is an easy one! Third, you can both stay healthy!
So, for example, you will want to select things you can do while she is doing a video of chair exercises. For example, you can do a routine of calisthenics behind her at the same time! Yoga is an exercise that can be done in varying levels of intensity. One person’s downward dog can be another person’s mild stretch from a chair. You can modify your intensity so you both get something out of it and both stay within safe physical limits. And, people who walk together stay healthy together! This is a daily activity in nice weather especially that can be the highpoint of the day together. No matter what you select, you should have some backup plans so that if it is raining or the vcr doesn’t work, you can still do something.
Also, you should plan for some resistance. Since we all know that exercise is very good for us and can even help prevent diseases and has the power to even reduce the severity of certain pre-existing diseases, we should all be out there going crazy exercising every day right? Wrong. Exercise is not something we are naturally wild about doing at first. Otherwise, that statistic at the beginning of this article would not be telling us that 80% of us are not exercising enough!
The fact is, exercise can be hard at first and not very enjoyable. People also are not always wild about a change in routines.
So, don’t force an exercise program. Think of ways to make it attractive with rewards like “gramma’s” rule: “We can watch your favorite episode on Netflix when we get back from a walk.” Adding a reward after exercise can make it more attractive. Also, when just walking, maybe think of new destinations each time. You could even drive to new neighborhoods to see new houses and gardens each time you go. If you are just doing videos, you could make it more exciting by wearing a special headband for exercise time or providing a special “after workout” snack that becomes part of an overall enjoyable routine.
Luckily, once a person develops the exercise habit – which takes about a month according to experts – that person will start wanting to do it and it will not seem like such a hardship or chore after a while. That first month is the toughest part. If you are dealing with your own resistance, making a promise to do it with the senior you are caring for can help with accountbility.
If you want to try this, and they do not, start an exercise routine you do in front of them without their participation. You can pop in a yoga video and he or she can watch. Maybe your commitment to it will spark an interest in your senior.
Planning for the types of exercises to do and then doing them together can also be a time for unexpected fun and a new type of closeness with the person you are caring for. So, as they say on Nike commercials, “Just do it” and do it together! What are you waiting for?
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