As we age, exercising is ever more important because it increases our balance, helps maintain or build bone density, and increase muscle mass to support sitting, rising and transferring. Functional fitness is what is encouraged in our seniors as it assists them to age in place longer and safely.
Generally, good health practices of our youth and adult life will take us into old age with strong bones, a healthy cardio vascular system, good balance and even higher cognitive function. Studies have found that adolescent women who eat and drink the required amount of calcium, coupled with exercise will build the bone density they need to take them through adulthood. Studies also show that individuals who have performed heavy labour during much of their adult life have greater bone density than those with a sedentary lifestyle. Lifestyle practices that include exercise certainly makes a difference in our later years.
Functional strengthening for the elderly senior living at home is of the utmost importance. By implementing an exercise program which addresses major muscle groups to aid function such as sitting and rising from a chair, bending down to pick up an item, transferring from room to room or performing their own instrumental ADL’s (tasks such as laundry, meal prep, making bed), seniors will be able to perform tasks and maintain their independence at home far longer.
Balance is often the first thing that will be compromised. And because statistics show that seniors over 75 are often living at home alone without home support, it is very important that seniors are out walking or taking part in an exercise program – specifically programs which emphasizes functional strength in the biceps and triceps, quadriceps and some light cardiovascular workout.
No matter what age an exercise program is implemented, it can make a tremendous difference. Meet George for example.
George was 93, when his daughter suggested some regular home support and exercise therapy. For a year, caregivers and exercise therapist visited with George, providing 40 minute functional exercise sessions. George had high blood pressure averaging 195/100 or more. His main diet was soup from a tin.
Caregivers began to encourage George to assist them with preparing hot meals and sandwiches. Salt was removed from George’s diet and a veggie spice mix substituted. After awhile, George didn’t miss the salt and stopped asking for it.
George also assists caregivers with laundry. A walker was suggested as a means for transferring more safely because George was falling frequently at home. Recently, just prior to George’s 94th birthday, his daughter took him to his physician. George’s blood pressure is down to 150/90 and lower. He was told by his physician that he looked like he had a new lease on life – there was a bounce in his step and a new energy. Regular exercise contributed to his improved balance, cognitive function and overall zest for life! Now George can continue to safely “age in place” in his home.
For seniors with debilitating and painful spinal diseases such as spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and multiple fractures coupled with sciatic pain, weakness in the extremities and arthritis in the joints, living at home is often not possible without intervention or exercise. Take, for example, seniors living at home with spinal stenosis. They live with constant pain and suffer weakness in the limbs. Walking becomes more difficult with every step. The pain and weakness prevents them from walking any real distance. Muscle strength is quickly lost through lack of use. Without functional muscle strength, safe transferring with any degree of strength and balance is reduced.
This group of seniors lives at risk for falls. When a senior falls, and they have lost what is described as ‘functional strength’, the ability to rise even onto the knees to crawl to a stable surface to rise is lost.
Many senior centres offer chair exercise programs, fitness programs specializing in articulation of the joints and protection of joints due to severe arthritis. Small weights of 1-3 lbs are used to increase muscle mass. Balance exercises and stretching are vital components of an exercise program for seniors. For the senior not able to attend these programs, exercise therapist will come to the home to set up a short daily program. Guidance and follow-up visits are encouraged to ensure the senior is following through on these ‘age defying’ practices.
With the average age rising, our seniors are often aging in place in their 80’s and 90’s. When elderly people live at home, they often have to adapt their living space from time to time. Stairs require a lift, outdoor entry stairs need to be replaced by a ramp, and bedrooms shift from upper level to the main level for ease of transferring and ambulation. Functional fitness programming is of the utmost importance to ensure the senior is able to age in place their way – at home – but in strength and safety!
Johanna Booy of Care & Company provides care coordination and post rehab fitness therapy for seniors in Victoria, B.C. For more related articles and information, please visit her business microsite by CLICKING HERE