Stay active with exercise

By exercising right, senior citizens can maintain and improve the quality of their life

Elderly man exercising

Remember when you were in primary school and every assembly was started with arm exercises? Nothing difficult, and strenuous, but you were made to do it because that movement warmed you up for the challenges of the day ahead. It energised you.

If you're a senior citizen, you wonder: When did all those aches creep into my joints? When did the blood pressure begin to rise [or drop]? When did the shoulders stoop, and the chest slip down? It's so progressive, one doesn't notice it until it hampers one's daily movements. If you're a caregiver, you wonder, when did Mama/Papa turn "old"? Some friction has to be overcome to get into the routine of daily exercise but it's possible and, what's more, the benefits are enormous and tangible.

Set a routine

Elders need to do only as much as they can cope with. However, nothing can stop them from walking slowing to the market and carrying a couple of fruits or bread or just a little stroll, nothing that might give a sprained back, breathlessness or a fracture. The benefits aren't just physical; it gives one a sense of worth to lend a hand to daily chores.

To set an exercise routine, begin small: a stretch a day for a week, then add another. After four days, add a twist. Two days of that and then try bending. Do a couple of pranayama and a gentle asana or two, before graduating to go to the bank to fill those passbooks or running [not literally].

Those grey cells, too, must be made to work: use them to fill up forms [great for neuro-muscular co-ordination], keep track of domestic budgets, birthdays, etc. The motto is "gradual and definite" [or, as the cliche goes, slow and steady]. Take two months or longer, but aim towards improving upon a task. It could be kneading dough [excellent muscle-conditioner] or removing cobwebs [stretch those lazy shoulders] or teaching grandchildren to polish shoes. It is important to incorporate exercises in daily tasks. If it's formal exercise you're looking at, it's a good idea to get some advice [free or paid] from a qualified trainer or physiotherapist. What's important is that exercises should be done diligently and regularly [no cheating!!]. Skip a day or a couple of days, and "de-conditioning" will happen.

If one is over 60, here's how to begin?

  • Take a deep breath when you awaken in the morning.
  • Take a couple of deep breaths, stretch hands above the head and point the toes outwards.
  • Get on to one side and sit up. Stretch ankles and the knees and see if you can bring your head down.
  • Clasp the fingers of both hands and stretch them over your head.
  • Feel those muscles relax: calves, thighs, buttocks, back, chest, shoulders. Breathe in, out, in, out. If you're into yoga, do some simple stuff. Inhale deeply, exhale strongly through one nostril, out from the other, then do it the other way round. Then get out of bed.

Keep them active

If you're a caregiver, make sure elders takes the stairs whenever they leave the house. One flight, slowly, to begin with. Climbing more than one storey is great for the lungs, heart, legs. Add a little extra each day, without pushing. Once strength increases, the confidence will follow, to try out new variants. Let them try doing this in a sitting position before graduating to "normal" postures and watch the cheer increase.

Never forget the importance to warm-up and cool-down before and after any exercise. Fetching the newspaper, carrying milk packets, cleaning out shelves, all involve movement. Different sets of muscles are used if such jobs are done three times a week. That's a good exercise to tone up the muscles.

Once the elderly get into the groove, and wants to move ahead, try low impact endurance [or aerobic] exercises like swimming or dancing. Forget skipping or jogging till the doctor, the knees and the heart agree. If the heart rate has to be increased, do it gradually.

Migraine, depression, sleep disorders, skin conditions, endocrine problems, all show a marked improvement with exercise. Digestion, attitude, and desire [ahem!] return.

There are special contraction exercises that help to cope with embarrassing incontinence. Habits formed in 60s and 70s, will last till the 90s. So start now!

Special Precautions

More and more seniors are proving every day that they aren't too old to exercise. In fact, the older you are, the more you need regular exercise.

Precautions while exercising

  • If you have a family history of heart disease/diabetes/hypertension/obesity or are suffering from one, consult your doctor first
  • Don't try to do too much, too fast, exercise at an intensity appropriate for you
  • Pick activities that suit your needs and that you can do year-round
  • Wear comfortable clothing and footwear
  • Choose a well-lighted, safe place with a smooth, soft surface
  • Take more time to warm-up and cool-down before and after your workout. Stretch slowly.
  • Don't rely on your sense of thirst; drink water to prevent dehydration
  • Eat little, before exercising to avoid hypoglycaemia [low blood sugars]
  • It's normal to be a little sore after you first start exercising, but stop if you feel pain
  • Watch for warning signs.

Warning Signs

Seek the emergency care if you experience any one of the following:

  1. Chest discomfort
    • Chest discomfort is pressure, burning tightness, pain, or fullness lasting more than 10 minutes with rest.
    • Pain can be located in middle of the chest, down one or both arms, between the shoulder blades or in the neck or jaw.
  2. Abnormal heart rate:
    • Palpitation- Irregular or heavy pounding of heart.
    • Rapid heart rate - Above 120 beats per minute.
    • Slow heart rate - Below 55 beats per minute.
  3. Extreme shortness of breath
  4. Blackout or fainting spell
  5. Others
    • Difficulty breathing at night
    • Unusual swelling of ankles
    • Change in pattern of chest pain
    • Unexplained nausea and vomiting.

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