Our dad is 78 years old and has started spending a lot more time indoors and on his recliner. He’s in good health, but he says he’s getting too old for exercise to matter. What can we say to persuade him to become active again?
Exercise is an important part of ongoing health and fitness and, despite your dad’s feelings to the contrary, we never age out of our need for it. In fact, studies show that becoming or remaining active as an older adult offers a wide array of benefits. On the physical side, regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health; help to lower blood pressure; lessen the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease; help with balance, strength and flexibility; maintain healthy weight; improve strength and stamina; maintain joint health; help with swelling and pain due to arthritis; and lower the risk of falls. Regular exercise has mental health benefits as well. Older adults who incorporate even moderate amounts of exercise into their daily lives report enhancement to mood and outlook, improved cognitive function and a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Remaining physically active also has been shown to help older adults maintain their ability to live independently.
For a well-rounded exercise program, think in terms of a mix of activities to improve endurance, increase strength and maintain flexibility. And be creative. Walking, jogging, swimming and biking all fit the bill for moderate aerobic activities for endurance, but so do dancing, raking the lawn or playing badminton. We lose muscle mass as we age, so strength and resistance exercises, such as weight lifting or Pilates, are important. Activities like stretching, tai chi and yoga help keep joints strong and muscles limber. Current guidelines recommend that people 65 and older should do 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise each week, which averages out to a manageable 20-ish minutes per day.
With that said, we would be remiss not to mention the precautions that must be taken during this COVID-19 pandemic, during which older adults are at greater risk. Physical distancing and wearing a mask now are the norm, and access to many areas for outdoor activities like exercise has been limited. But as restrictions ease and more spaces reopen, people are going to want to get outside more to participate in some of the activities we have mentioned. That includes older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is safe to do so, as long as precautions such as physical distancing and wearing a mask continue to be observed. Continue to wash your hands often, stay at least six feet away from others at all times and avoid crowded areas or gathering with others outside of your household. Swimming and other water-related activities are great ways to get the physical activity needed for a healthy life, and the CDC says it is safe to jump into a pool if you are not sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and take appropriate steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Before making any significant changes to his exercise regimen or activity, your dad should check in with his doctor or other health care provider. They will be able to evaluate his condition and fitness level and point him in the direction of appropriate activities. Not only will it help your dad to stay safe, he’ll have another partner and cheerleader in his corner.
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