It’s cold out there! If you’re fighting the urge to camp out on your couch, can you blame the senior in your life for having the same idea? Yet regular physical activity is a must for good health, no matter your age.
The temperature may keep going down, but there are still ways to encourage your elderly loved one to get up and get moving, says Colin Milner, founder of the International Council on Active Aging. “The way to begin is to find something that they really enjoy doing,” he explains.
First, think back over your senior’s past history of exercise. “Is he or she a former athlete who enjoyed playing soccer, or maybe tennis?” asks Milner. “There are a lot of indoor, temperature-controlled environments where seniors can still enjoy their favorite sport.” Check with your local rec center, for starters—if they don’t have that indoor lap pool or racquetball court you’re looking for, they can probably help you locate the facilities you need.
Make sure your elderly loved one has the right gear for whatever activity they may pursue: “I’m a big believer in safety first,” Milner says. Properly fitted athletic shoes, for instance, or aqua shoes with a grip, will increase your senior’s confidence and minimize the risk of fall or other mishap.
It could also be that your senior would enjoy exercising with others. Many gyms, community centers, and houses of worship offer indoor group exercise classes, some specifically geared toward older people. In addition to getting exercise, your senior will get a dose of socialization, which can help with mental health as well as physical health, Milner says. “Most people want to connect with other people and sometimes they’re not sure how,” he notes. “Sport and exercise is a fantastic way to connect and break down that barrier.”
Are you concerned that a group class might be too demanding for an elderly loved one? Look into hiring a personal trainer, who can conduct a few one-on-one exercise sessions tailored specifically to your senior’s needs (some trainers will even come right to their clients’ homes). “The key, no matter what kind of exercise you are doing, is to go at your own pace and not try to keep up with someone else’s,” says Milner.
There’s also a happy medium between group and solo exercise, he adds, which is finding a workout buddy for your senior. “You loved one will rely on them being there, and will want to fulfill their commitment as well,” he says. Many caregivers create routines for their clients to have consistency in exercise and activity. It’s something to look forward to and also a way for the two to bond.
Last of all, don’t overlook your favorite shopping destination: “Mall walking is huge,” says Milner. Think about it: Malls are temperate, safe, and—thanks to the chance to go window shopping—entertaining too. Many large indoor shopping centers have established programs already in place. The Centers for Disease Control has an extensive guide on the benefits of mall walking programs and how to start one: ( https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/mallwalking-guide.pdf).
And what should you do if, despite your best efforts, your senior doesn’t want to leave the house at all? “Some people may want to watch TV and do some exercise during the ads,” Milner says. “It’s not optimal, but one thing I’ve learned is that you need to meet people where they are, and support where they are, and then move them forward.”
Caregivers find ways around the house to keep their clients active as well. Board games, card games, and exercising in the home are all things they are well versed in.
Always check with a physician before embarking on a program of exercise.
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