Older adults must understand that exercise and physical activity can help them improve the quality of their lives, even if they already have difficulty walking, or standing.
Older people have more to lose by not doing anything to increase their strength, flexibility, balance and improve their cardiovascular health. Sometimes, fear of getting hurt or not knowing what to do may hold back the older person, but to do nothing is a sure way to decline into feebleness and dependence on others. Of course, always consult your health-care provider before trying any new exercises and, if in doubt about exercises in general, consult a certified personal fitness trainer who has extensive experience and education in training older adults.
Improving balance and flexibility in the older person is essential. As with any exercise routine, a five-minute warmup with range of motion exercises and a five-minute cool down period to allow the heart and body to come back to a resting rate is essential. Stretching should come at the end of an exercise routine, not at the beginning, because muscles are less flexible and more “cold” at the beginning of a session than at the end. A nice easy walk or simple range of motion exercises, if walking is impossible, is a good way to warm up and cool down.
Each year, more than 1.6 million older adult Americans go to the emergency room because of fall-related injuries, according to the National Institute on Aging. Even a simple fall can cause a fracture of the hand, wrist, ankle or hip and lead to long term difficulties and dependence on others for help.
Balance work should be done every day in order to improve. Start by using a chair, a wall or other sturdy object for support and gradually try to become less dependent on the chair and stronger in your own body. If able to stand, start your balance work by trying to stand on one foot for a second or two. If unable to stand, try to lift one leg off the floor for a few seconds while seated and then try to lift the other. Progress safely and steadily until you are able to add in more difficult moves such as just using one hand to hold on to the chair or such as walking on your toes, or walking on your heels.
If confined to a chair, rolling a ball under the foot from heel to toe, then side to side, under the arch can help both balance and flexibility and strength in the ankle joint. No matter where you start, you can improve!
The importance of flexibility is that it will give you more freedom and more ability to reach for important things that you need and better ability to dress yourself. With stretching exercises it is important to hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds in order to really improve. It is also important to not bounce a stretch but to stretch slowly, carefully and to breathe throughout the stretch. You also want to avoid “locking” your joints when doing a stretch, so keep the joints slightly bent.
Remember that you stretch at the end of an exercise program not at the beginning, and if you are only doing stretches then warm up first with range of motion exercises so that you don’t tear a muscle. Never stretch to the point of pain, just to the point of a mild stretching feeling. Sometimes when doing stretching exercises you might want to use a towel or a yoga strap to extend your reach. This is a great idea so that you don’t overdo it at the beginning.
Again, when in doubt, leave it out. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and consult an expert personal fitness trainer on how to exercise and progress. If it hurts, stop! If your doctor has said don’t do a movement, then don’t, and if it makes you feel like you need a break, then take a break. Exercise is important and can add years to your life and life to your years. Doing exercise is less harmful than not doing exercise, but follow the advice of experts and do it right. If I can help you, give me a call!
• Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.