Turn Excuses Into Exercise!

Related topics: Getting Enough Exercise, Fall Prevention, Senior Lifestyles

Tempted to skip your exercise routine now that the days are cooler? Read this first!

Grandmother walking with grandchild in autumn leaves

In September 2016, Yale University researchers published a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, highlighting results from the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders study, the largest and longest of its kind. This study tracked the health of 1,600 people aged 70 – 89 over the course of 3½ years. Half of the participants took part in exercise that included aerobic, strengthening, flexibility and balance activities — the four basic elements of a good senior exercise program.

The results were dramatic. The seniors who took part in the exercise program were less likely to experience disability, and if they did suffer a disabling illness or injury, they recovered 25 percent faster. They were also less likely to suffer a relapse. Said geriatrics professor Dr. Thomas Gill, "Our report strengthens the evidence supporting the benefit and long-term value of physical activity in promoting independent mobility among a growing population of vulnerable older persons."

But, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many older adults fail to get enough physical activity. In a September 2016 news release, the CDC reported that 28 percent of seniors do not indulge in any exercise beyond what's needed for daily life activities. And the older we get, the more likely we are to lapse into a sedentary lifestyle. Bad idea! The CDC says that exercise:

  • Reduces the risk of premature death
  • Delays or prevents many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers
  • Promotes independent living
  • Reduces the risk of falls and fall injury
  • Delays the onset and progression of dementia
  • Reduces depression, and improves overall mental health.

Why don't seniors exercise? If you are something of a couch potato, what's your excuse? Here are six excuses seniors give …

Excuse #1: I don't have time. Even people who are retired and should in theory have plenty of time to work out sometimes find themselves putting exercise on the bottom of their schedule. It's important to deliberately set aside time for exercise. Today's lifestyle — and gadgets — are part of the problem. We spend a lot of time surfing the web and binge watching hundreds of channels of media offerings. Maybe we like to read, or take classes. All great ways to spend our time — but a recent study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis noted that older adults today are more cognitively healthy, yet they're falling behind their counterparts of previous years when it comes to physical health.

Seniors working out with exercise ball

Excuse #2: It's boring. The AARP reports that the top reason older adults give for skipping exercise is: "I really do not enjoy exercise." An exercise program isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. There is physical activity to appeal to almost everyone. Try dancing or an exercise class with music you like; hop on a bus and get off for your walk at a new, interesting place; take a water aerobics class; walk with a friend instead of going out for donuts; or set up your treadmill in front of the TV so you can watch a favorite program on the move rather than parked in your recliner chair. (A September 2016 study from Georgia State University showed that laughter improves our workout — so maybe select a comedy.)

Excuse #3: I've never exercised and I don't know what to do. When it comes to senior exercise these days, there are plenty of choices! Recognizing the value of exercise — for our health, and for the financial health of our healthcare system — our communities increasingly offer senior exercise programs at senior centers, senior living communities, parks and recreation departments, and gyms. Many health plans even offer fitness benefits. Ask your doctor for a "prescription" for an exercise program that's right for you.

Excuse #4: I'm afraid of falling. It's smart to be cautious about falls. A fall can change a senior's life, leading to short-term or lifelong disability. Falls even cause 30,000 deaths each year in the U.S.  But the worst way to avoid falls is to avoid exercise! Physical activity actually lowers the risk of falling by improving our balance, muscle strength and flexibility. Talk to your doctor about a fall-protecting exercise program made up of activities that are safe for you.

Excuse #5: I have a disability. For seniors living with conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, visual impairment, the effects of a stroke or memory loss, getting enough exercise can be more challenging. But almost everyone can benefit from regular physical activity. Talk to your doctor or a rehabilitation specialist (such as a physical or occupational therapist) about an exercise program that's tailored for your strengths and challenges. Adaptive exercise programs can help people with chronic conditions reap the benefits of exercise, despite their physical or cognitive limitations.

Excuse #6: I'm a family caregiver. Who is more strapped for time than those of us who are providing care for an elderly or disabled loved one? And yet, who needs the stress-busting and health-promoting benefits of exercise more? Learn about respite care options available for your loved one, and during that time, make exercise a priority. And if your loved one is able, exercise together! Even if you're getting a lower-impact workout than you normally would, every little bit helps and the resulting sense of accomplishment is another bonus.

Learn More

Visit the National Institute on Aging website to download or order the free Exercise & Physical Activity guide for seniors.

And download the November/December 2016 "Building a Great Senior Exercise Program" puzzle for some extra inspiration.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2016 IlluminAge

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