Try These Health and Wellness Activities for Seniors To Prevent or Slow a Decline in Physical Functioning
If you search online for “70 is the new ...” you’ll see results that say, “70 is the new 50,” “the new 60,” “the new middle age,” and even “the new 40.” There’s no denying that today’s older adults are, in general, healthier and more active than those in previous generations.
Advances in medical treatments, including pharmaceutical therapies for common age-related conditions, are among the reasons people are living longer. But research also has helped us understand the roles that physical and mental activities play in maintaining good health into the later decades of life.
There’s no better time than now to help your loved one start taking better care of his or her health, so let’s explore some of those activities!
Slowing Bone and Muscle Loss
The age-related loss of muscle mass and strength is called sarcopenia, and it can begin as early as our 30s. According to Nathan LeBrasseur, a researcher with Mayo Clinic, some people may have lost as much as 50% of their muscle mass by the time they’re in their 80s or 90s.
Loss of muscle mass can affect a person’s ability to perform basic activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and getting out of bed or a chair.
Combine this with weakened bones from osteoporosis and you have a recipe for frailty. Muscle loss can affect gait and balance, increasing the risk of falling. And if a fall occurs, weakened bones are more likely to break.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will have an osteoporosis-related fracture after the age of 50. Another 30% of people in that age group have low bone density, or osteopenia, placing them at risk for osteoporosis.
The good news is that lifestyle changes — such as adopting healthier eating habits and getting more of the right kinds of exercise — can lower these risks.
“Physical activity remains the single best way most people can limit muscle loss as they age,” LeBrasseur says. “Exercise may conjure images of young people in the gym, but what I’m recommending is that individuals remain physically active, including walking, gardening, and performing daily household tasks.”
Exercises To Slow the Loss of Muscle Mass
Many experts recommend progressive resistance training to help prevent sarcopenia. While that might sound complicated, it really isn’t.
Resistance training simply means exercising one’s muscles against an external force. That can be the floor, a chair, a wall or doorframe, or even a kitchen counter. For those who have access to a fitness facility, there are machines and classes specifically for resistance training.
Progressive resistance training means starting with a few repetitions and sets or a low amount of weight and gradually increasing them.
The following are some basic resistance exercises. You can find senior-specific variations of these online, as well as other exercises that might be better-suited to your loved one’s capabilities. Online videos are particularly helpful for learning proper form to avoid injuries.
Push-ups. Conventional push-ups can be modified to make them safer and less strenuous. For example, some people may prefer to keep their knees on the ground while doing push-ups on the floor. Others may want to do standing push-ups, pushing against the edge of a kitchen counter for resistance. Doing seated push-ups in a sturdy chair that has arms is another option. A word of caution: Make sure none of the surfaces are slippery.
Squats. Older adults with balance issues can hold on to the back of a chair or have a wall nearby while doing squats. Mini squats — where you don’t go as low as you would in a regular squat — are easier for beginners. They’re also easier on the knees and hips for those with joint pain. Another option, chair squats, is basically using slow, controlled movements to sit down in a chair and then stand back up again, ideally without using one’s hands or leaning too far forward.
- Standing shoulder rows. This exercise requires a resistance band or a shoulder pulley that can be anchored — over a door, in a door frame, or in some other way. Have your loved one stand upright, facing whatever is being used to anchor the band or pulley, holding on to both ends of the resistance band or the handles of the pulley. Palms should face inward, and elbows should be bent and hugging the waist. Keeping the elbows bent, your loved one should then pull the band or handles backward while squeezing the shoulder blades together and holding the torso straight. Then, have your loved one return to the starting position.
Exercises for Osteoporosis
Two types of exercises can help prevent osteoporosis: weight-bearing exercises and strengthening exercises. The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the following examples.
High-impact weight-bearing exercises (may not be suitable for those at high risk of breaking a bone — check with a physician first):
- Climbing stairs
- High-impact aerobics
- Jogging or running
- Jumping rope
Low-impact weight-bearing exercises:
- Low-impact aerobics (including water aerobics)
- Walking at a brisk pace, whether on a treadmill or outdoors
- Using an elliptical trainer or stair stepper
- Weightlifting, either with free weights or weight machines
- Exercises using a resistance band (such as the shoulder rows we described earlier)
- Exercises that require the use of one’s body weight as resistance (such as the push-ups and squats we described)
The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation also provides instructions for exercises intended to strengthen the spine, including neck presses and chest raises.
The foundation notes that while yoga and Pilates can improve strength, balance, and flexibility, certain poses and movements may not be safe for people who have osteoporosis or are at higher risk for broken bones.
If you’re uncertain about your loved one’s risks, consult a doctor. It’s also wise to work with a personal trainer, if possible, to learn proper techniques and avoid injuries.
Maintaining Good Hand-Eye Coordination
Most of the time we take our hand-eye coordination for granted — until it starts to deteriorate. Hand-eye coordination is required for all sorts of tasks we perform on a regular basis, such as writing, tying our shoes, inserting a key into a lock, fastening buttons, and catching objects that are falling.
Vision loss, certain health conditions, and changes in the brain can all affect hand-eye coordination as we get older. Fortunately, there are many ways in which we can help protect our hand-eye coordination.
Hand-Eye Coordination Activities
Some of these involve moving the whole body, whereas others focus predominantly on using the hands and eyes. All of them stimulate brain activity that controls hand-eye coordination.
- Yoga, tai chi, Pilates, and other exercises that work on balance or agility
- Playing catch (can be as easy as repeatedly bouncing a ball on the floor or against a wall and catching it)
- Playing video games
- Painting, drawing, and writing
- Any type of craft project, including woodworking
- Playing board games and card games
- Doing jigsaw puzzles
A Secret To Making Exercise More Enjoyable
If the mere mention of exercise elicits a groan, one trick you can try is to have your loved one choose an activity — such as dancing or gardening — that doesn’t seem like exercise.
There’s no need for dance lessons, though classes and videos are available that feature dance exercises and workouts. The objective is just to get moving!
If your loved one feels self-conscious dancing around other people, encourage him or her to dance with you or in private. To set the mood, put on some favorite music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Then, you can either lead the way or leave the room, whichever your loved one prefers.
Among the elderly, dancing may be one of the safest — and most popular — forms of exercise, even for those with limited mobility. (Yes, it is possible to “get down” while sitting down!)
Activities with a Purpose
At Avenir Senior Living, we offer a broad range of activities designed to encourage residents to challenge themselves, including those who are with us for memory care.
We tailor our activities to residents’ specific interests and abilities. As a result, we find that residents are more likely to participate and engage with other people around them.