Caregivers hear it all the time. Exercise is good for them, and good for the elderly people they love.
The media brings frequent reminders from health experts that exercise prevents illnesses and raises energy levels. Exercise can also help alleviate or prevent depression and stress-related illnesses, which eCareDiary has reported as being prevalent among the elderly and those who care for them.
Thanks to the now decades-old fitness revolution, older adults have plenty of inspiration to change their bodies and lives. For example, bodybuilding champion Ernestine Shepherd, at 75, claims to feel thirty years younger than her true age. The credit goes to her grueling fitness regimen. Indeed, many doctors and scientists have dubbed exercise “the anti-aging pill”.
The benefits of exercise for older adults and stressed-out caregivers are indisputable. But tell that to the burned-out caregiver with a job and a teenager at home. Or to the elderly adult who lacks resources for fitness instruction or physical therapy.
A lack of time, energy, or access can make regular exercise seem like a luxury.
We asked Elaine LaLanne, owner of Befit Enterprises, and wife of the late fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne, about the role of fitness in healthy aging. Jack LaLanne maintained his vigorous workouts until his death this year at age 96. Elaine, who for decades made appearances on her husband’s famous show, keeps a regular fitness routine of her own – and looks great.
“When Jack passed away earlier this year, he was very concerned about seniors having good balance to help reduce falls, bone fractures and even deaths, so he created the Better Balance For Life Program,” Elaine told us.
The Better Balance for Life Program was designed by Jack LaLanne and two doctors, both of whom are experts in geriatrics.
“Better balance, better muscle tone, and strength with attention to our center of gravity can help prevent falls,” says Dr. Jeffrey Bourne, D.O., C.M.D., one of the program’s co-creators. “We know this is achievable for all people, even the frail elderly.”
Many caregivers are already helping an older adult with physical therapy or other exercises, especially when insurance fails to provide continuing services. But even if the doctor has not ordered a specific physical fitness program, a home-based exercise plan can prevent future accidents.
For caregivers, the strides made by the elderly person in their care through balance-building exercises can inspire new fitness habits. As they see their older relative improve in health and confidence, they may come to value the small steps they can make toward adding fitness to their own lives – even while caregiving. Little changes can help caregivers reap big health rewards.
The most important change a caregiver will make may be one of mindset. It is easy to assume that a fitness routine is only valuable if it includes at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. But the scientific evidence encourages finding fitness through smaller blocks of workout time. And smaller blocks of time may be easier for a caregiver to fit into his or her schedule.
For busy caregivers, or caregivers without access to an exercise class, a few brisk 10 minute walks per day can make the difference between keeping healthy or physically declining during the caregiving years. Strapping on the sneakers and making an extra loop around the grocery store, or walking from the farthest parking spot at work all add up.
Add in some strength building exercises at home a few days per week, and the busy caregiver may have taken all the time for fitness he or she needs – and deserves.
Specific information on adding it all up is available on the internet. Keeping your body healthy in 10 minute chunks of time is possible if you follow national guidelines such as those set forth by the Centers for Disease Control.
Depending on your lifestyle and where you live, opportunities for physical activity may be right outside your door, or even inside your house. Fitness programs from the National Institute on Aging are broken down by age group and list several exercise choices. The site explains the many activities that burn calories and build strength, not only in aerobics or tai chi classes, but even while doing chores around the house or yard.
Handling illness and physical declines, or taking on the caregiving role can make the “anti-aging pill” of exercise seem out of reach. But with a little information, and a bit of willpower, tiny steps really do add up.
eCareDiary reminds all readers to check with a physician before starting any exercise program for themselves or for an elderly person in their care.
To read more about caregiving, read Kim Harke’s article, Speak Up for the Care You Need, here.
Kim Harke is a health care technical writer specializing in compliance. She holds a Master’s in history from New York University.
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