It is no groundbreaking revelation that older adults need to exercise. Arguably there should be more of an urgency to do so to maintain independence and quality of life. What can be frustrating is that our loved ones may be sedentary, minimally physically active or are headed down a path of inactivity that does not look good. The connotation and assumptions your parent may place on the word exercise can turn them off. It can be seen as something that they have to do, may involve suffering and they may associate it with pain. The benefits of movement in all its various forms can not only maintain or improve their quality of life but also emotionally. Making a better connection between real life and “exercise” can be boiled down to context, phrasing and the goal for exercise in its various forms.
Instead of the fitness professional’s definition of what mobility is let’s just keep it simple. This is the ability to do bend, reach or get…things. Someone may be physically able to use their strength to lift something off of the ground but can they get their body in the position to do so. In a resource by Baylor University, they raised a very important point about mobility in older adults:
“One challenge of navigating these health risks in relation to mobility loss is that they can be cyclical. For example, low physical activity puts an individual at higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. In turn, having a pre-existing condition such as obesity can lead an individual to engage in less physical activity due to impaired mobility.”
Thus it is important that these individuals fight that urge to do less or worse…be sedentary. Especially at this time in their lives finding ways to if not maintain but also improve their mobility is key.
We may think that agility is largely related to our lower extremities…legs and feet. Because the terrain we navigate is rarely flat or without obstructions there should be some aspect of training for this for older adults. Coordination, vision training, and body awareness is also part of agility. Often everyday life involves complex movements that call on the entire body to work together…like getting into and out of a car.
Functional strength is more than just being able to perform a curl or doing an impressive leg press. Everyday life strength is not always (pretty much rarely) full of isolating movements. Pulling, pushing, lifting twisting or picking things up can take more than just the bicep or arms. Also rarely are we carrying something that is evenly weighted or we are carrying in both hands. Thus movements that introduce some kind of external source as a resistance/weight are important. Machines and dumbbells are just the tip of the iceberg.
Mark Rippetoe, a well-respected individual in the fitness community but it best about strength and older adults in his article Strength Training for People My Age:
“The loss of strength also means the loss of muscle mass. Muscle tissue is not merely the stuff that generates force and moves us around. Muscles, in a very real sense, are glands that actively participate in the physiological regulation of our bodies. Muscles produce signaling substances that affect all the systems that must be maintained for continued normal functioning. A chronic loss of muscle mass is associated with poor health, and a profound loss of muscle mass is highly correlated with death.”
The emotional benefits of movement are subjective. There is no number, metric or measurement for confidence but is one of the most valuable byproducts of practicing better movement consistently. We all may have a different definition of a “good” quality of life. However, we all intersect with the idea to be able to the things we physically need to do (clothe, feed, bathe, work) to carry our daily life.
Falls are not a normal part of aging. The more your loved one finds ways to move better it can help lower the risks of falls. Without a doubt, there are specific movements that help to strengthen the foundation of balance. At the same time activities like Tai Chi or dancing provide useful balance training without specifically focusing on that. Take a look at these statistics below to display how important it is for older adults to move in ways that help reduce the chances of falls.
To dig deeper into these and other aspects of moving better I would highly suggest you check out these resources:
Mobility Loss Puts Older Adults at Risk: Research Shows Exercise Can Help published by Baylor University’s Online Graduate Programs. This can be a great resource to not only educate you on what your parent or loved one should be doing in regards to mobility.
Are Older Adults Indifferent, scared, and reluctant to exercise? By National Academy for Science and Medicine (NASM). This can be a good article to give you more insight about exercise and older adults along with resources and research to check out.