As a family caregiver, it can be frustrating and scary to see a senior loved one struggle to get around the house, or give up on exercises and activities that they used to love.
For people of all ages, staying physically active is one of the most important keys to overall health. This is especially true for older adults. For seniors, living a sedentary lifestyle can have a whole host of negative health effects, from exacerbating chronic pain to increasing the likelihood of suffering a damaging fall. On the flip side? Older adults who remain committed to staying active and getting exercise report feeling healthier and happier, and can enjoy health benefits including improved strength, greater flexibility, less pain, superior mental function, better cardiovascular health, and even better sleep habits.
Despite the remarkable benefits of physical activity, data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests that just 28-34% of adults aged 65-74 say that they are physically active.
As multiple studies have shown, even a few minutes of exercise and activity per day can make an enormous difference for seniors, helping them to feel better and live more independently.
For those family caregivers who want to help their senior loved ones become more active and build healthy habits, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are seven important steps and ideas to keep in mind as you help a loved one get moving and become more physically active:
Reach Out for Recommendations and Advice from a Doctor
Before helping your senior loved one begin a new exercise or plan a fitness routine, be sure to consult with an experienced medical professional. A healthcare provider can help provide an assessment of your loved one’s current health status, including noting any injuries or health issues that should be addressed and worked around. A medical professional can also provide personalized recommendations and advice on activities to consider, while also being respectful of your loved one’s limitations and concerns. A doctor may also be able to help review your loved one’s medications, and offer other guidance that can be helpful for older adults seeking to live a more healthy lifestyle — including providing guidelines and recommendations for healthy hydration, proper nutrition, and ideas for healthy living (such as giving up smoking or reducing alcohol intake).
In their consultation with a healthcare provider, your loved one may get advice on how to become more physically active without risking a fall or a serious injury. It’s important to follow all guidelines for healthy exercise, including following any recommendations on warming up and cooling down. Respect your loved one’s limits, and try to avoid pushing them too hard, too fast. Meanwhile, remember to help your loved one take some important safety precautions as they move forward with their fitness goals:
- Stay hydrated. Remember to equip your loved one with a water bottle, and make sure they drink before, during, and after all physical activities. Know the warning signs of dehydration and stay on alert.
- Dress for the weather. Before heading outdoors on warm or cold days, help your loved one dress for the conditions. On cold days, experts recommend dressing in lots of waterproof layers, with footwear that provides plenty of traction and gloves to protect the extremities. For hot days, wear layers that can easily be removed, and which provide ample protection from the sun.
- Get proper equipment. Make sure your loved one has the proper shoes for walking, biking, or hiking. Help them stock up on sunscreen, and look for low-impact exercise equipment designed specifically for seniors.
- Have help and support on hand. Remember the power of the buddy system! Always make sure your loved one has a spotter or helper on hand to keep watch while they get active, in order to provide support and jump in to help, as necessary.
Focus on Core Areas of Health
For people of all ages, the idea of starting to become more physically active can feel daunting. How do you know where to get started? What should you be working toward? Fortunately, there are lots of guidelines and resources out there, specifically designed to help give seniors some ideas on what to focus on.
For example, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) recommends that older adults follow CDC guidelines and focus on “two types of physical activity each week to improve health — aerobic and muscle-strengthening.”
According to the NCOA, experts recommend that older adults engage in “moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week,” as well as “muscle-strengthening activities for two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.”
Similarly, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) encourages seniors to focus on four core fitness areas: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. You can find recommendations for activities and important considerations for all four of these areas right here.
Be Encouraging and Supportive
Your loved one may need a little bit of motivation on the road to becoming more physically active. They may be encouraged to keep going and reach their goals if they feel supported and seen. Provide words of encouragement whenever you can, and stay positive. Be empathetic, and listen to your loved one. Be there to cheer on their successes, and provide a sympathetic ear when they want to vent about their struggles. Try to join your loved one as often as possible. For example, if your loved one loves to go for walks, join them for a stroll a few times a week. Keep your loved one in the loop on your own health and fitness goals, and share news, updates, setbacks, and victories together.
Set Clear Goals and Start With Small Steps
Remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as the old saying goes.
The road to helping your elderly loved ones build healthy habits can be a long one. To make things easier, try not to put too much on their plate at once. For example, you might start by encouraging your loved one to simply take up some more chores and low-impact activities around the house to get them used to moving regularly again, before committing to a more active regimen.
At the same time, help your loved one set clear, manageable goals, and break these major goals into achievable tasks or steps. For example, it can be hard and discouraging to feel like you’re making progress if your goal is to simply “be healthier.” However, if your goal is to “walk for thirty minutes every day,” this is far more approachable — and you can help your senior loved one work up to this end point by helping them walk for five minutes, then gradually stepping up to ten, then 20, until they’ve reached their goal.
Find Places to Get Involved
Just as your loved one may benefit from having you in their corner, they may also find that becoming active is more fun and fulfilling if they do it among friends. Do some research for senior fitness activities, classes, and groups in your area. You may be surprised by how many resources are out there — from senior-focused yoga meetups, to senior centers offering dance and fitness classes, to pools and gyms blocking off hours specifically for senior group activities.
Bring In an Extra Set of Hands
For those times when you can’t be there to assist and support your loved one in person, a senior companion may be able to step in and help! Companion care is a form of flexible, cost-effective long-term care for the elderly. From a few hours a week to 24 hours a day, a senior companion can stop by on a schedule that works for you and your loved one to provide driving services, assistance with activities of daily living, meal preparation and service, and, above all, friendly company and social support. A companion can help provide non-medical care and assistance to your loved one as they pursue their favorite activities, and provide regular updates to all family caregivers and decision-makers.
Want to Help Your Senior Loved One Enjoy a More Active, Enriched Life?
Looking for support in helping your loved one stay physically active as they age in place? Could your senior loved one benefit from the attention and support of a personal companion as they set new goals and get involved in their community? We’re here to help!
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home, by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of non-medical services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort of their own home, including offering helpful exercise reminders and crucial support as your loved one begins or continues a fitness routine.
If you have any questions about helping the senior in your life enjoy themselves and remain active while they age in place, don’t hesitate to reach out to us online, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to get the conversation started. We’re here to offer guidance and provide support, in whatever way we can!