Today, we know a lot more about older adults and their need to exercise. Regardless of their health and physical abilities, older adults can gain a lot by staying physically active. Even if you have difficulty standing or walking, you can still exercise and benefit from it. In fact, in most cases, you have more to lose by not doing anything.
Exercise and physical activity benefit every area of your life. It can:
• Help maintain and improve your physical strength and fitness.
• Help improve your ability to do the things you want to do.
• Help improve your balance.
• Help manage and prevent diseases like diabetes, heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and osteoporosis.
• Help reduce feelings of depression, may improve mood and overall well-being, and may improve or maintain some aspects of cognitive function, such as your ability to shift quickly between tasks, plan an activity, and ignore irrelevant information.
Falls and Fractures
A simple thing can change your life – like tripping on a rug or slipping on a wet floor. If you fall, you could break a bone, like thousands of older men and women do each year. A broken bone might not sound awful. But, for older people, a break can be the start of more serious problems.
Many things can cause a fall. Your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes might not be as sharp as they were when you were younger. Diabetes, heart disease, or problems with your thyroid, nerves, feet, or blood vessels can affect your balance. Some medicines can cause you to feel dizzy or sleepy, making you more likely to fall.
But don’t let a fear of falling keep you from being active. Doing things like getting together with friends, gardening, walking, or going to the local senior center helps you stay healthy. The good news is that there are simple ways you can prevent most falls.
Take The Right Steps
If you take care of your overall health, you may be able to lower your chances of falling. Most of the time, falls and accidents don’t “just happen.” Here are a few hints that will help you avoid falls and broken bones:
- Stay physically active. Plan an exercise program that is right for you. Regular exercise improves muscles and makes you stronger. It also helps keep your joints, tendons, and ligaments flexible. Mild weight-bearing activities, such as walking or climbing stairs, may slow bone loss from osteoporosis.
- Have your eyes and hearing tested. Even small changes in sight and hearing may cause you to fall. When you get new eyeglasses, take time to get used to them. Always wear your glasses when you need them. If you have a hearing aid, be sure it fits well, and wear it.
- Find out about the side effects of any medicine you take. If a drug makes you sleepy or dizzy, tell your doctor or pharmacist.
- Get enough sleep. If you are sleepy, you are more likely to fall.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect your balance and reflexes.
- Stand up slowly. Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop. That can make you feel wobbly.
- Use a walking stick if you need help feeling steady when you walk. If your doctor tells you to use a cane or walker, make sure it is the right size for you and the wheels roll smoothly. This is very important when you’re walking in areas you don’t know well or in places where the walkways are uneven.
- Be very careful when walking on wet or icy surfaces. They can be very slippery! Try to have sand or salt spread on icy areas by your front or back door.
- Wear non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes, or lace-up shoes with non-skid soles that fully support your feet. It is important that the soles are not too thin or too thick. Don’t walk around on stairs or floors in socks or in shoes and slippers with smooth soles.
The word “arthritis” makes many people think of painful, stiff joints. But, there are many kinds of arthritis, each with different symptoms and treatments. Most types of arthritis are chronic. That means they can go on for a long period of time.
Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. Some types of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel—swelling, warmth, and redness in your joints. In some kinds of arthritis, the pain and swelling last only a short time, but are very uncomfortable. Other types of arthritis might be less painful, but still slowly cause damage to your joints.
Exercise Can Help
Along with taking the right medicine and properly resting your joints, exercise might help with arthritis symptoms. Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, helps keep joints moving, lessens pain, and makes muscles around the joints stronger.
Three types of exercise are best if you have arthritis:
- Range-of-motion exercises, like dancing, might relieve stiffness, keep you flexible, and help you keep moving your joints.
- Strengthening exercises, such as weight training, will keep or add to muscle strength. Strong muscles support and protect your joints.
- Aerobic or endurance exercises, like bicycle riding, make your heart and arteries healthier, help prevent weight gain, and also may lessen swelling in some joints.
Other Things To Do
Along with exercise and weight control, there are other ways to ease the pain around joints. You might find comfort by using a heating pad or a cold pack, soaking in a warm bath, or swimming in a heated pool.
Your doctor may suggest surgery when damage to your joints becomes disabling or when other treatments do not help with pain. Surgeons can repair or replace some joints with artificial (man-made) ones.
Everyone feels blue now and then. It’s part of life. But, if you no longer enjoy activities that you usually like, you may have a more serious problem. Being depressed, without letup, can change the way you think and feel. Doctors call this “clinical depression.”
Being “down in the dumps” over a period of time is not a normal part of getting older. But, it is a common problem, and medical help may be needed. For most people, depression will get better with treatment. “Talk therapy,” medicine, or other treatment methods can ease the pain of depression. You do not need to suffer. The good news is that people who are depressed usually feel better with the right treatment.
Regular exercise may help prevent depression or lift your mood if you are somewhat depressed. Older people who are depressed can gain mental as well as physical benefits from mild forms of exercise like walking outdoors or in shopping malls. Gardening, dancing, and swimming are other good forms of exercise. Pick something you like to do. Begin with 10–15 minutes a day, and increase the time as you are able. Being physically fit and eating a balanced diet may help avoid illnesses that can bring on disability or depression.
Remember, with treatment, most people will begin to feel better soon. Expect your mood to improve slowly. Feeling better takes time. But, it can happen.
An Aging Heart
Some changes in the heart and blood vessels are normal as you grow older. But over time, disease can damage your blood vessels and your heart.
A common problem for older people is arteriosclerosis (ahr-teer-ee-o-skluh-roh-sis). This is a stiffening of the arteries that happens, in part, because of growing older. Atherosclerosis (ath-uh-roh-skluh-roh-sis), the buildup of fatty deposits as plaques, is another cause. When plaque builds up along the walls of arteries, there is less space for blood to flow. This makes it harder for blood to get to all the parts of the body that need it, including the heart itself.
Other changes to the heart happen as you age. For example, to help the heart pump blood through stiffer blood vessels, some parts of the heart wall thicken. The size of the four sections of the heart also changes. So do the valves (door-like parts that open and close to control the flow of blood between those sections). The number of heart beats each minute when you are resting (the heart rate) does not change as you age, but the heart can’t beat as fast when you are physically active or stressed as it did when you were younger.
There are many different kinds of heart disease. Plaque buildup is often to blame. But there are other causes too. For example, choices you might make every day can lead to damage to artery walls. Do you smoke? Do you drink a lot of alcohol? Are you overweight? Do you spend the day sitting at a desk or in front of the television? Do you avoid doing exercise? Do you have diabetes or high blood pressure that is not under control? Are you under a lot of stress? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, making changes might help you prevent or delay heart disease. Things you can’t control, like your family history, might also increase your risk of heart disease. But even so, leading a heart healthy lifestyle might help you avoid or delay serious illness.
One sign that you are at risk for heart disease is your waist measurement. Extra fat around the middle of your body increases risk. A good way to check that is simply to measure your waist. A man’s risk of heart disease is increased if his waist measures more than 40 inches. A woman’s risk is increased at 35 inches.
There are a lot of steps you can take to keep your heart healthy.
- Try to be more physically active. Talk to your doctor about the type of activities that would be best for you. If possible, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most or all days of the week. Every day is best. It doesn’t have to be done all at once – 10-minute periods will do. Start by doing activities you enjoy – brisk walking, dancing, bowling, bicycling, or gardening, for example. You might want to join an exercise group or even a gym.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking adds to the damage to artery walls. It’s never too late to get some benefit from quitting smoking.
- Follow a heart healthy diet. Choose low-fat foods and those that are low in salt. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber like those made from whole grains. And if you drink alcohol, men should not have more than two drinks a day and women only one.
- Keep a healthy weight. Your healthcare provider will probably check your weight and height to learn your BMI (body mass index). A BMI of 25 or higher means you are at greater risk for heart disease as well as diabetes (high blood sugar) and other health conditions. Following a healthy eating plan and being physically active might help you.
High Blood Pressure
You can have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and still feel just fine. That’s because high blood pressure does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. But, high blood pressure, sometimes called “the silent killer,” is a major health problem. If high blood pressure isn’t controlled with lifestyle changes and medicine, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, eye problems, or kidney failure.
The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled in most people. To start, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of high blood pressure, including:
- Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight adds to your risk of high blood pressure. Ask your doctor if you need to lose weight.
- Exercise every day. Moderate exercise can lower your risk of high blood pressure. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise plan if you have a long-term health problem or are over 50 and have been inactive.
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products may help to lower blood pressure. Ask your doctor about following a healthy diet.
- Cut down on salt. Many Americans eat more salt (sodium) than they need. Most of the salt comes from processed food (for example, soup and baked goods). A low-salt diet might help lower your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about eating less salt.
- Drink less alcohol. Drinking alcohol can affect your blood pressure. Most men should not have more than two drinks a day; most women should not have more than one drink a day.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. If you smoke, quit.
- Manage stress. People react to stress in different ways. For some, stress can cause their blood pressure to go up. Talk to your doctor about how you can lower stress. Exercise and getting a good night’s sleep can help.
If these lifestyle changes don’t control your high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medicine. You may try several kinds before finding the one that works best for you. Medicine can control your blood pressure, but it can’t cure it. You may need to take medicine for the rest of your life. You and your doctor can plan together how to manage your blood pressure.