Even if your loved one hasn’t exercised in a long time, starting now can help improve mobility strengthen muscles, and support fall prevention. As a family caregiver, it is important to understand why and how bodies change as we age.
“As we age, we may lose bone density and become more fragile, especially if we become sedentary,” says Maria Peck, director of fitness at White Sands La Jolla, a HumanGood community. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging and weight lifting, can assist with maintaining bone density.
In this interview, Peck explains how mobility changes over time and offers three exercises that can help seniors get moving.
HumanGood: What causes decreased mobility?
Peck: The common factors that lead to the loss of mobility are physical inactivity, obesity and chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and musculoskeletal pain, which lead to muscle weakness and imbalance.
HumanGood: Once you start losing mobility, does that mean your strength and flexibility are gone forever?
Peck: No, the good news is that most of these factors listed above can be reversed or managed successfully. We can gain mobility by increasing our physical activity on a regular basis. There is no better time to start than now.
HumanGood: Why is regular exercise so important?
Peck: The more we practice moving, the more our body will get used to it. In return, confidence, balance, strength and flexibility will all increase. And, exercise is also good for our mental health, mood and memory.
No matter your loved one’s age or current physical conditions, there are fun and beneficial ways to become more active and improve mobility. Exercise is only one type of physical activity. As a whole, physical activity is any body movement that works your muscles and exerts more energy than when you are at rest. This includes fun activities such as gardening, walking the dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. So gaining mobility doesn’t have to be tough, painful and boring work.
If exercising in the gym is fun, great! If your loved one doesn’t like the gym but prefers being outdoors, that is just as great! Explore options with your loved one and find out what he or she enjoys doing. People are more likely to stick to being physically active if they participate in something that they enjoy.
HumanGood: If you’re a senior, should your loved one take any special precautions?
Peck: Check with your loved one’s physician or healthcare professional before he or she begins any new exercises or activities. If possible, meet with a fitness professional. He or she will be able to create a safe and effective workout program. Make sure your loved one starts off slow and stops immediately if experiencing any pain.
HumanGood: What types of exercises can help improve mobility?
Peck: My favorite mobility exercise is a Sit to Stand because it works several muscles. Start by sitting in a sturdy chair. With feet flat on the floor, try standing up without using the arms. If people need to use their arms, that’s OK, but focus on the legs. Once standing, go ahead and sit down, but do it as slow as possible. This exercise seems simple, but it’s a great activity for strengthening legs and core.
The second exercise is shoulder rolls. Roll shoulders backward and forward, being mindful of posture. This can be done sitting or standing. When comfortable, reach the arms up and out and then side to side.
Third. Walk. People forget how simple a nice walk can be. It doesn’t matter where or how far. We are so lucky to have great weather here in La Jolla. I often tell our residents to get outside and walk.