As our parents grow older, it becomes more difficult for them to maintain the level of health and fitness they may have enjoyed in their younger years. Age brings natural declines in strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. Chronic health conditions also often emerge, further hampering mobility. However, regular exercise and activity can tremendously benefit older adults by improving both physical and cognitive function.
While our aging parents cared for us throughout our lives, now it is our responsibility to provide support and encouragement as they experience the challenges of later life. Implementing even small lifestyle changes and fitness habits can greatly impact their well-being.
Let’s discuss eight impactful ways to help our elderly parents stay active and healthy for as long as possible.
Take Daily Walks Together
Going for regular walks is one of the simplest yet most effective forms of exercise for the elderly. Aim to walk with your parent for at least 15-30 minutes per day. Walking at a gentle pace helps improve cardiovascular health, circulation, muscle strength, balance, and coordination.
To make walks more enjoyable, use the time to engage with your parent socially. Chat about family, friends, current events, or fond memories. This interaction stimulates their mind and lifts their mood as well. If balance or joint pain is an issue, provide an arm to hold onto for support. And be sure to follow any recommendations from their doctor about appropriate walking pace and distance.
Improve Home Safety
Evaluate your parents’ home environment and make modifications to support mobility and independence. Older homes, in particular, might contain materials like asbestos, which was commonly used in insulation and other building materials until the 1980s. Long-term asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a serious form of cancer. Resources like Mesothelioma Hope can guide identifying and managing asbestos-related risks, offering peace of mind as you work to create a safer living space for your parents. Reduce fall risks by installing grab bars in bathrooms, removing tripping hazards like area rugs, adding railings on both sides of stairways, and improving lighting throughout the home.
Other helpful adaptations include elevated toilet seats, shower benches, lever-style door handles and faucets, and mobility aids like canes or walkers. A safe, accessible home environment allows seniors to comfortably perform daily activities and exercises without undue risk or difficulty.
Incorporate Seated or Standing Exercises
For seniors with limited mobility, seated or standing exercises are great for maintaining strength and flexibility. While seated in a sturdy chair, try simple arm raises, leg kicks, shoulder rolls, and stretches. Use resistance bands to add intensity to the movements. If able to stand safely, have them hold onto a counter or piece of furniture for balance. Standing leg lifts, knee bends, and calf raises are all beneficial.
Even exercising the fingers and toes promotes continued dexterity. Just 15 minutes per day of gentle, low-impact seated or standing exercises can make a meaningful difference in preserving physical function.
Prepare Nutritious, Well-Balanced Meals
Eating nutritious meals is essential for supporting health and activity levels in the elderly. Chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis are often exacerbated by poor nutrition. Assist your parents in planning and preparing meals incorporating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts/seeds, and healthy fats. Stay hydrated and limit sugar, salt, and processed foods.
Taking a multivitamin or specific supplements may help fill nutritional gaps too. Proper nutrition provides energy for daily functioning and exercise. It also helps manage various age-related health conditions. Consult a nutritionist or doctor for personalized recommendations if your parents have special dietary needs.
Establish an Exercise Routine
Routines lend structure and purpose, greatly motivating the elderly to stay active. Try to establish a regular exercise schedule for your parents. This might involve a morning stretching routine when they get up, an evening walk after dinner, or yoga sessions every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Attending a senior exercise class together is another great social interaction and accountability option. Mix up the types of exercise within the routine – for example, incorporating aerobic, strength training, balance, and flexibility activities. Maintaining an exercise routine helps ensure fitness remains a consistent priority amidst busy schedules.
Monitor Medications and Effects
The medications your parents take could potentially cause side effects like fatigue, dizziness, mood changes, or digestive issues – all of which can inhibit physical activity. Have their doctor carefully review all prescriptions to determine if dosages need adjustment or if any drugs can be discontinued or replaced. Rule out medications as an obstacle to staying active.
Also, ensure your parents take medications correctly and understand proper timing, dosages, and interactions. Remind them to report any troubling side effects to their physician right away. Staying informed about medications helps maximize benefits and minimize activity-limiting effects.
Provide Transportation Assistance
Driving limitations can severely impact elderly adults’ ability to stay active and engaged within their community. Offer to drive your parents to run errands, attend medical appointments, visit friends, go shopping, and get to exercise classes or senior community centers. Public transportation like buses or trains may be an alternative as well.
Encourage Social Interaction
Research clearly shows that social isolation tends to increase with age, negatively affecting physical and mental well-being. Make an effort to help your parents stay socially engaged. Schedule regular visits with family and friends. Attend community events, religious services, or senior meet-ups together. Spending time conversing and connecting with loved ones provides joy and purpose.
Volunteering at local charities or places of worship is another great way to get them out of the house and interact with others. If you live far away, set up weekly video calls. Contact their local senior center to learn about programs and classes that also provide social stimulation. Staying socially active can motivate older adults to keep moving.
Helping aging parents maintain health and fitness requires patience, creativity, and commitment. But small efforts can positively impact their well-being in so many ways. Focus on finding activities they enjoy that stimulate both body and mind. Support their overall wellness through proper nutrition, medication management, home adaptations, and social engagement too. Stay positive when challenges arise. With our loving support, our elderly parents can continue to lead active, enriched lives.