Watching a loved one age isn't always easy. The NCOA says that 92 percent of seniors currently are struggling with at least one chronic disease and 77 percent are battling with two or more.
Even if your loved one doesn't have a chronic illness, smaller issues may begin to arise. At first, it might not even be noticeable. But that's probably because you're not looking for them. Then, seemingly all at once, you see them every time you look.
Maybe the first thing you notice is that your loved one begins to struggle cognitively. Small but consistent lapses in memory. Struggling to remember or learn otherwise simple things. Not realizing they are repeating themselves again and again. Or not having a good grasp on what day, time or even year it is.
Or maybe it was when you first saw them struggle to make it up the stairs on their own, get up from their seat, bend over to pick something up or maintain their balance as they walk. Or the terrifying experience of their first fall.
There is a long list of the things you may begin to see that give you that “drop in your stomach” feeling. These issues show you what “getting older” can look like.
Emphasis on the Can
The more I began to learn, the more I began to realize there are so many small things that I could have been doing to help prevent those issues from appearing so soon or growing so quickly. It’s even possible to fix the ones that have already begun to show themselves.
The aging process doesn’t have to be this ominous thing off in the distance. Instead, it can be the time where you get to enjoy the things you love to do most in life like frequenting the golf course with friends, creating a garden that would put Martha Stewart to shame, or going on adventures.
What about following that passion or goal that you have never been able to dedicate yourself towards? Whether it be writing a novel, painting, or just taking classes out of a love for learning, now is your time.
The point is, your later years can be some of the best. Living life your way. Enjoying the fruits of your labor. Being able to be around for wonderful milestones or celebrating holidays with family and friends. These can be the golden years for you or your aging loved ones.
How can you help your parents enjoy this kind of lifestyle? One great way to start is by making your parents your workout partners.
Hear me out.
Now, I am not saying that this is some sort of miracle cure. But, what we do know is that an individual's level of physical fitness is a determinant factor of his or her mental and physical health. The benefits of weightlifting for seniors can be jaw-dropping.
Being the sole-person or a part of a team of people who help provide care for your parents isn’t easy either. It becomes increasingly difficult to find time to care for yourself. And when you do try to make time for yourself, you are struggling to cope with the guilt of “what you could be doing” for them.
Thankfully, we can address all that, to some degree. It starts by teaming up with your parents and working out together.
3 Reasons Weightlifting is a Beneficial Exercise for Seniors
1) Weightlifting prevents the progression of and potentially reverses age-related disorders.
Some issues people face aren’t necessarily age-related. But there is a good amount that are.
For example, sarcopenia, also known as age-related muscle loss is the process of losing strength and muscle mass. After the age of 50, there is an average decrease in muscle mass of about 1 - 2% and anywhere from 1.5 - 3% loss of strength a year.
A sedentary lifestyle or one with minimal physical demands can lead to a sharp decline in neuromuscular functioning. This manifests itself in a struggle to control movement or maintain balance. It can also show up in more complex ways, like being aware of one's limbs and the amount of effort used to move.
Building muscle and strength through weightlifting offers protection from age-related disorders, especially when it comes to declines in neuromuscular functioning, muscle mass, and strength.
Maybe you are asking now, “well, what about if my parents have never touched a weight in their life? Is it still going to help them? What if they are already struggling with these issues?”
Don’t worry. Start by beginning to workout 2-3x a week. Many studies have shown that will make a massive difference and lead to improvements in:
- Muscle mass, strength, and endurance
- Balance and balance recovery
- Movement control and movement speed
- Overall physical skills and functional capabilities
2) Weightlifting supports physical independence.
Have you had to watch or be the person to tell your parents that they can’t do their own errands anymore? Buy their own groceries? Drive their own car? Go for walks on their own? Walk around the house without assistance in the form of a walker or aid?
It isn’t fun for anyone. You don’t want to “take these away” from them. You’re just concerned about their safety and possibly even the safety of others. So you have to.
Weightlifting can help maintain and even improve one’s functional independence. It can even significantly reduce the risk factors for falls.
That doesn’t necessarily mean your parent will be back on the road or living fully independent. But, the more independence they can enjoy, the more active they can remain. The more of “their life” they can maintain and live. Something that is a major factor in their overall quality of life.
This isn’t just a benefit for them. It is a win-win for you as well. Providing you with more peace of mind knowing that they are capable of doing some things on their own.
3) Weightlifting supports cognitive health.
But what about their cognitive health? How does weightlifting help with that?
I know it may seem a bit confusing. Why does working out your muscles help your brain function? Weight training helps produce more of a specific molecule in your brain. This molecule, BDNF, is responsible for a whole lot. Specifically, it helps neurons survive and helps to grow new neurons. All while increasing the connections between them by increasing the number of synapses.
Working out can improve your memory, learning, and even higher level thinking.
Studies consistently show that memory and overall cognitive function can be improved through weightlifting. That holds true whether those studied are cognitively healthy or dealing with a previous memory compromise or cognitive impairment.
By exercising with your parent, you are doing more than supporting them physically. You are supporting them cognitively as well. Allowing them to be mentally present in their day to day life. Empowering them to continue to be able to handle things like making sure they are eating, taking their medication, bathing, and more on their own.
3 Not-so-obvious Benefits of Getting Seniors to Exercise
1) Spending quality time together.
It is easy to get caught up in caregiving and forget to find time to simply do things together.
Making your parent your workout partner ensures that you are able to provide support and motivation. Helping them stick with building their muscle mass and strength through their fitness routine. Being there with them each step of the way benefits both of your and lets you enjoy a new activity together.
Setting a goal together is a great way for you and your parent to be invested in one another’s progress and success. Having these goals and shared activity is a great way to build a connection in a new way and spend quality time together.
Sticking to a new exercise routine, pushing towards a goal, staying the course through something challenging...all of this can be difficult. Being there for one another through it allows for both of you to support each other, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
It isn’t an “improving neuromuscular function” type of benefit, but it is one that is invaluable. Time. Something we never get back.
2) Practicing self-care.
Let’s be honest. How much time have you made to take care of yourself lately? The average person isn’t getting enough exercise as is. Never mind with the added responsibility and stress of taking care of another person on top of it all.
The average age of a caregiver is approximately 49. Which means, this is also a great time for you to start building up your own muscle and strength. Get ahead of the curve and prevent any of these issues from popping up down the road.
Remember, you didn’t notice these problems at first, which means they won’t be apparent in ourselves either. Address that now by building this routine and taking care of yourself while spending time with someone you love.
3) Coping with guilt.
It wasn’t until I finished writing this and re-read it that I realized the amount of guilt I've felt. Did you sense it?
It is something that you can see worn on the faces and body language of family members when issues arise. Or during tense family conversations.
We all carry it, this feeling of “I should have done more” and “I am not doing enough”. And so, we go out of our way to do more. Taking on more responsibilities in hopes we can get rid the weight of this guilt.
Instead of just doing more, do what matters. Making your parent your new workout partner can help you cope with caregiver guilt. Enjoy experiences with them that you can carry on together. Be their cheerleader, their coach, and their friend. Allow them to be the same to you. Help them live a healthier, more engaged, and greater quality of life. And take care of yourself in the process as well.