Staying active fortunately doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym every day. Activities for seniors, from volunteering to swimming, moderate hiking, even simply getting out of the house to grab lunch with a friend can have immediate health benefits. Caregivers looking to optimize their loved one’s overall physical and mental health will be thrilled by these tangible benefits of routine activity:
Physical Wellness: In addition to promoting a strong immune and digestive system, regular exercise in old age can help fight illnesses like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and colon cancer to name a few. Is the person your care for experiencing minor back or knee pain? Staying active with low-impact physical fitness helps stretch your spine, reduce muscle inflammation and improve circulation, which in turn, can alleviate aches and pains. The benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks for older people, but if you are concerned about injury, consult your doctor and encourage your loved one to start with gentler physical activities like daily walks, yoga, tai chi, or water aerobics.
Positive Attitude: Both exercise and socializing with friends triggers an endorphin release in the brain, promoting self-confidence and overall happiness as well as reducing feelings of sadness and anxiety. Volunteering in the community is a great way for seniors to stay active and is also proven to help people feel more socially connected, combatting feelings of loneliness and isolation that can often accompany old age. If the person you care for is feeling depressed, angry or generally grumpy, striking up a routine of some type of activity daily, like a 20-minute walk, or a stretching session to a playlist of their favorite songs, both gives them something to look forward to as well as promotes endorphin production.
Mental Clarity: For seniors, “staying active” doesn’t just refer to the body, but the brain too. Routine activities should include those which stimulate positive brain function, thus enhancing critical thinking and preventing cognitive decline. Solving puzzles or playing thinking games regularly, like Sudoku, Chess or Scrabble, encourages your loved one to multi-task, and use creativity, problem-solving skills and memory. Stave off dementia, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s with physical exercise too, which boosts blood flow to the brain and has been shown to promote cell growth.
Better Sleep: Getting out, exercising regularly, and staying active can help your loved one fall asleep faster, get a better night’s sleep, and wake up more rested and alert. Better sleep then cyclically feeds into a desire to be more active as well as promotes better brain function. As a caregiver, are you concerned about your loved one falling? Exercise and healthy amounts of sleep can boost your loved one’s mobility, coordination, and balance which means reducing their risk of falling. A win-win!
Sense of Security: When it comes to routine activity and providing a sense of structure and security for your loved one, “routine” is the key word. For caregivers and those they care for, following a daily set schedule that involves some type of physical activity is paramount. Taking meds at the same time each day, exercising and eating meals around the same time each day, and waking up and going to bed around the same time each day help people, especially the elderly, feel less stressed and sleep better.
For caregivers, the resources to help your elderly parent, grandparent or friend whom you care for aren’t always in abundance. Daily activities might require transportation you can’t provide, or time you simply don’t have because of a job or other obligations. Prioritizing regular exercise and activity that so greatly benefits senior citizens is easier with the help of other family members or friends who are willing to pitch in.
Consider organizing a care calendar where your loved one’s support network can sign up to transport them to the local senior center for tai chi class, to take them out for a walk, or to bring lunch over and do puzzles together. Online coordination tools like CaringBridge and SignUp.com provide free online signups and calendars for you to organize help. And local agencies and caregiver networks may offer free transportation or daytime activities for your elderly loved one as well. Do your research and don’t forget, keeping your favorite senior active will effectively make life better for them and you!