Exercise has many benefits for seniors. The most important is that it helps to keep them healthy so they can remain independent and carry out activities of daily living like walking eating, bathing and getting in and out of a bed or chair. Exercise also helps to keep their joints lubricated and their bones and muscles strong. It clears the mind with improved blood and oxygen flow and just as importantly, it can improve mood and fight depression. All of these things are important factors to help seniors prevent falls and remain strong and mobile.
Here are three ways in which you can help seniors stay active for long term health:
1. Ensure good nutrition to promote strong bones and muscles. Nutritional needs change as we age, and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends that people aged 50 and over choose healthy foods every day from the following food groups:
- Fruits: 1 1/2 to 2-1/2 cups, or a 2 inch peach, an apple the size of your fist, etc.
- Vegetables: 2 to 3-1/2 cups, or 2 cups of uncooked leafy vegetables like lettuce, chard, etc.
- Grains: 5 to 10 ounces, i.e. a small muffin, one slice of bread, 1 cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta.
- Protein: 5 to 7 ounces of meat, fish or poultry, or one egg, ¼ cup of cooked beans or tofu, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
- Dairy: 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk, or 1 cup of yogurt, 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same as ½ cup of milk.
- Oils: 5 to 8 teaspoons, or foods like olives, nuts, and avocado that have a lot of oil in them. Solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) — keep the amount of SoFAS small. They are filling, though very low in nutritional value and may prevent your loved one from eating power-packed nutritious foods.
2. Drinking lots of water is essential to maintaining strong muscles and joints. Muscles need water. If there isn’t enough water in the cells then muscle breakdown occurs and stops muscle growth. Water also helps the digestion that moves protein and other nutrients from the digestive tract to the muscles. The challenge is that aging decreases the water content of our body and as a result thirst decreases. That is why seniors may not drink as much as they need to in order to stay hydrated. Encourage your loved one to drink water throughout the day because it keeps muscles strong, improves quality of life and helps to maintain good health.
3. Move, move, move! Walking is great exercise. In fact it’s the perfect exercise to keep muscles strong and joints lubricated. Encourage your loved one to walk every day. Twenty minutes of walking, done in small bits of time throughout the day, can help keep seniors mobile.
There are a few other exercises that can help to keep seniors strong and mobile. Chair exercises help with muscle retention and balance. Local civic organizations like the YMCA and YWCA, senior centers and councils on aging usually offer classes for chair exercises and movement. Lifting light weights is also great exercise to maintain muscle mass. Weight of just a couple of pounds are good enough to prevent muscle loss and keep joints and tendons healthy. You can find a class for your loved one, find a class on cable television or buy a DVD with light weight exercises. The goal is to lift light weights regularly but not to become a weight lifter.
Focusing on good nutrition, physical activity, social engagement and other positive lifestyle factors will help to maximize the health and wellness of the senior in your care. It may also help you as a caregiver as you pursue walking, good food and fun activities together.
Visit our elderly care service page for more information.