Safety first – then our expert physios help clients gain the confidence to push the boundaries of what they can achieve, writes TPC founder and CEO, Tristan White
Safety first is a good rule of thumb when setting exercise goals for seniors. We (as physiotherapists) and our clients both need to feel reassured we’re not going to make anything worse, before we make anything better.
At The Physio Co we tailor programs to individual abilities and needs. While we want everyone to have a crack at being as fit as they can achieve, we appreciate they’re not in training for the next Olympics!
Our core purpose is helping seniors stay mobile, safe and happy – and of those three considerations, safety is hugely important.
The Physio Co recently welcomed Professor Peter Reaburn* along for a presentation to our team, drawing on his extensive knowledge as the former Head of Exercise and Sports Science at Queensland’s Bond University.
Peter says: “As we all know, the older population is more at risk from chronic diseases and therefore it’s important (if you’re going to be working with them) to screen them to make sure that what you are doing with them can be done safely.”
Stage one of our safety plan involves simple questions such as ‘How much physical activity are you doing? What is your age, gender and injury profile?’ Then we move into looking at the risk factors because we know as people get older, the risk factors increase.
(ESSA – Exercise and Sports Science Australia – has developed an online tool that helps with assessment)
So, in terms of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, that’s considered a risk factor for men over 45 and women over 55. If a senior has two or more risk factors, a check-in with their GP is necessary before they start an exercise programme – just to be on the safe side.
Note of caution
As physiotherapists, we’re in the position of being able to address people’s limitations due to injuries and ailments, which might otherwise prevent them getting into exercise. This is more a note of caution for how we tailor someone’s exercise program, than a reason not to exercise.
For instance, consider blood pressure and its effect on exercise. While it may sound counter-intuitive, weight training for health and general strength (as opposed to trying to lift Olympian weights!) can benefit blood pressure.
Peter says: “Resistance training can have strong benefits on cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure, even though it elevates the blood pressure.
“Ideally we don’t want to be doing heavy weights because that really elevates both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the pressure when your heart beats, and when at rest between beats). So, if my blood pressure was an issue, you wouldn’t be doing isometric or slow-tempo resistance training. You might lower the weight and quicken the tempo for someone whose blood pressure is compromised. But you’ve got to tailor it.”
Increasing the challenge
The other safety factor is adopting a good technique by ensuring that whatever you are doing is done safely.
This might be holding hands with a physio, or holding onto something for support until you get the hang of the exercise and feel more confident – then increasing the challenge as you get stronger and more flexible.
To take an analogy from the sporting world: it’s like an athlete who pushes themselves in training so on competition day, their body is ready for anything. By pushing yourself in your exercise program under the watchful eye of a trained physio, the real-life circumstances become easier.
Safety is paramount when our expertly qualified physiotherapists work with seniors – but equally, we help people find the confidence to reach their own personal goals.
That way, our clients can live the healthy, active life they would ideally choose – and be stronger tomorrow than they were today.
* Professor Peter Reaburn is a “pretty fit 67-year-old” who has been very active all his life and practises what he preaches. He still enjoys sport in all its forms, from watching footy on television to swimming competitively. He has a PhD in exercise physiology, still works at Bond University as an honorary professor, walks most days and “I still enjoy surfing at my age. Love it.” When getting up on his board became harder than it once was, he started racking up the burpees at the gym to counter this decline.
This article is based on a presentation Professor Peter Reaburn gave to The Physio Co’s in-house TPC SWARM event.