It’s no secret that exercise is a key part of maintaining one’s physical function. Staying active, at any age, has been well proven to provide numerous health benefits, from reducing your risk of heart disease, to improving your mood.
Older adults should aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week.
Moderate intensity activity means the person should feel a bit breathless, but still be able to comfortably have a conversation. As we age, we should aim to include different types of physical activity that help our cardiovascular fitness, our strength, our flexibility and our balance.
Do you have an older Mum, Dad or loved one you are having trouble convincing to exercise?
Are you noticing that their physical activity is gradually declining and they are sitting more, sleeping more or not able to walk as far as they used to?
If so, read on for some tips on how to encourage Mum or Dad to move more during the week, so they can age well and you can worry less.
1. Add an active component to family outings or visits
When taking Mum or Dad out for lunch, add a walk in beforehand!
The recommended 30 minutes of physical activity can be broken into smaller amounts throughout the day, so you could get a 10 minute walk done, before sitting down together for a meal.
Or if you are visiting them at home, aim to do something active while you’re there. For example, walk around the block with them, get on YouTube and find a Tai Chi class video and complete it together, or if you bring some smaller humans (e.g. grandchildren to visit), encourage your Mum or Dad to get outdoors and kick a ball with them.
2. Encourage them to choose activities they enjoy
Help Mum or Dad choose activities they will enjoy, as they are more likely to complete the activity.
If they have active hobbies such as golf or swimming, encourage them to make time for these activities on a regular basis. If they enjoy dance or class-based activity, help them find a local group they could sign up with.
Or if they have some friends they could do activity with, help to organise a regular meeting that involves physical activity, such as a walking group. Group activity is a great way for older people to stay motivated, and it supports their mental wellbeing by helping them to stay connected socially.
The most important part is having a conversation with your elderly parent. Even though we feel we know our own parents or loved ones very well, you might be surprised to find out they have a few hobbies or interests they’d actually love to be able to get back into, if they had the help to facilitate it.
They simply may not know that there are local classes or group activities that they could join. Local councils often have a variety of programs or group activities for older people to join for free.
3. Set reminders, schedule physical activity in their calendars and encourage them to allocate time
Help Mum or Dad set reminders either on their phones or wall calendars to complete regular physical activity.
Remember that the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity can be broken up into smaller chunks throughout the day. So a 10 minute brisk walk in the morning and a 10 minute yoga session after lunch, followed by 10 minutes of strengthening exercises before dinner, can be a great way to make exercise feel like an achievable part of the day.
Make sure they can see the reminders – use whiteboards or diaries so that they can get a visual reminder throughout the day.
4. Help to address any barriers to staying physically active
It’s important to help Mum or Dad remove any barriers that could make it harder for them to participate in physical activity. For example:
- If they have a cluttered home with no ideal space to exercise, help them make a safe space to exercise in.
- If they worry about not having anything appropriate to wear to a group class, help them to find some comfortable clothing and supportive footwear.
- If they are not feeling confident to go for outdoor walks as their mobility and balance are not what it used to be, consult a physiotherapist who can assess them and make any recommendations, such as a gait aid that can be used for outdoor activity.
There are a lot of physical activity related programs, classes or groups out there, but most of them require you to find them and sign up via online – this can be a barrier for many older people who cannot navigate the internet properly. If this is an issue for your Mum or Dad, why not help guide them in exploring the many options available to add more physical activity into their daily lives.
5. Be a supportive accountability partner
It can be frustrating for well-meaning children of the older generation to be constantly asking their elderly parents if they have been “completing their exercises” or “going for their morning walk”, just to be met with a lot of “no’s” and “I’m too old for exercise”. It can be disheartening when we put in the effort to help someone that doesn’t want to help themselves.
Be patient, and remember that for a lot of older people, the mentality around exercise and physical activity was not the same in their day, as it is for us today.
Don’t give up, keep asking if they’ve done their exercise. If anything, your questioning of them to complete more physical activity can help serve as a prompt and a reminder, so that at least, it’s in the forefront of their mind. Remind them of the benefits, encourage them gently, hold them accountable and who knows, one day you might pop in for a visit and find them completing squats at their kitchen bench!
If you’d like more guidance on how to help Mum, Dad or your older loved one to be more physically active, get in touch with The Physio Co today! Our team of physiotherapists are here to help.
Please note – if your older loved one has not been physically active before or has had any changes to their health, please consult a medical professional prior to starting new levels of physical activity.
Article written by Kathy Soo (TPC physiotherapist)