By Dr. Jason Koh,
Being a board certified physiatrist, I often work with the 55+ population, and whether it’s the result of illness, injury, or just the product of aging, the most important thing I hear from this group when it comes to goals. . and the result is: “I want to maintain my independence.”
And I fully understand it!
Starting to feel like you are losing your independence when your family suggests that you move to an assisted living facility, or go with them, can be difficult to listen to and accept. We must all also understand that, eventually, we will have to accept that reality. However, there are things you can do today to try to maintain and maintain your independence for as long as possible, namely exercise.
Some of my patients are very supportive and even regulated regarding their exercise and often do low-impact exercises to help keep them moving. Many of my patients tend to groan a bit when I bring up the subject of exercise. But what I want everyone to know is that there is a right type of exercise for you that can be tailored to your needs. I’m not asking anyone to join a gym and start bench pressing 100 pounds. Just a few simple adaptive exercises and / or regular physical activity can help you lead a longer, healthier, and more independent life.
The importance of exercise
Regular physical activity in older adults is essential for the prevention of diseases, the maintenance of independence and the general improvement of the quality of life. The benefits of regular physical activity in older adults include:
- It reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
- It prevents postmenopausal osteoporosis and therefore reduces the risk of osteoporotic fractures.
- Reduces complications of immobility.
- It improves overall balance and thus can reduce the risk of accidental falls.
- It helps control weight and can even result in weight loss.
- Improves mental and cognitive function, reducing stress and anxiety, while improving overall self-confidence.
Finding the best type of exercise for older adults
Some exercises may be more conducive to older people starting their exercise journey; the type of exercise and the intensity will depend on the ability of the person. Try some of these and keep doing the ones that bring you joy; Those will be the ones that will probably continue.
- Aerobic exercise can help improve endurance. Dancing, hiking or walking around the block, walking at home or in a mall are examples of aerobic exercises.
- Water aerobics / swimming are beneficial for older adults as it takes pressure off the joints and it doesn’t feel as heavy in the water.
- Organized senior exercise classes are great as you can go at a pace that works for you and you can meet new people, have some social interactions, and make new friends.
- Basic household chores, like gardening and cleaning, also count as a form of exercise.
- Resistance band training can improve strength and can reverse or delay the decline in muscle mass and strength that can occur with aging.
Doing some form of physical activity at least 3-4 times a week can greatly improve your overall health, both physical and mental.
Adaptive exercises sitting or in a chair
The COVID-19 pandemic left many of us feeling confined to home, and some of us may not yet feel entirely safe starting an exercise class in a group setting. That is more than fine. Or perhaps you have limited mobility and need to use a walker, wheelchair, or other type of mobility device. And either way, there are some exercises you can do if you are at home.
Strength training and resistance training are as important to older adults with mobility issues as anyone else. There are certain exercises you can do to increase whole body strength while sitting. There are many things you can do with a band and ball while sitting, but even without equipment, there are many exercises to stay strong. Here are some seated exercises that would benefit older adults with limited mobility:
Always check with your doctor before starting a major exercise routine or regiment. But in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to get your blood pumping and your activity levels spiked as much as possible. These days, researchers say that leading a sedentary life is just as bad for you as smoking. Getting up and moving will help you maintain your independence and improve your physical and mental health.
Remember that staying active is not just about adding years to your life, but also about adding life to your years, and it is never too late to start!
Jason Koh received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine, after graduation from UC Berkeley. Dr. Koh completed his medical internship at Pacific Hospital and later served as chief resident of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at UC Irvine, where he currently serves as an assistant clinical professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. He is currently co-medical director of the MemorialCare Rehabilitation Institute at Long Beach Medical Center.