As a caregiver, you are undoubtedly concerned for the health of your parent. And let’s face it, you need to be concerned and dedicated to your continued good health. Keeping physically fit goes a long way in helping someone live a quality life as they age. It’s important to keep dad motivated in a fitness routine, especially if his health is diminished and even more important if his cognitive abilities have declined. Let’s explore some simple fitness routines for older men. In many ways they are not much different from those for younger men. The main thing to keep in mind is intensity, safety and frequency as older people need more time to recover and can injure themselves more easily.
There are pockets of geography around the world called Blue Zones where people typically live to an older age more so than the rest of the world. One of the principles people follow is to “Move Naturally.” People are less concerned with getting on the elliptical or treadmill (though I encourage you to do it if you can) than they are about building movement into their natural routine. Here’s an example. If my mother-in-law, 85, is visiting us and we are on the first floor of our house and she has to use the bathroom, instead of using the perfectly functional powder room on the first floor, she will walk up the steps to the farthest bathroom in the house. That is moving naturally. And women tend to do this more so than men. Consider that two, twenty-minute walks a day can make your real age five years younger. So encourage dad to move naturally and incorporate this idea of moving naturally into your routine too.
Stretching is important for everyone, and even more so as we age. Believe me, I know! Just getting into a squat position for me is hard. Stretching is basic and because it’s basic, we get lazy and don’t do it. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has some great flexibility exercises for seniors that you dad may want to incorporate into his routine. And remember: always warm up before stretching. Attempting to stretch without warming up can result in injury. Warm up with a few minutes of easy walking first, or if you’re planning to do other exercises, stretch after, not before.
“Once a man passes the half-century mark, he can expect to lose 1 percent of his muscle each year for the rest of his life.”
In essence older men have to lift more often than younger men to maintain muscle, which is essential for strength and balance as you age. According to ExRx.net,
“Resistance training can enhance muscle mass and function even in 90 year old subjects (McComas 2005). Individuals over the age of 90 have been shown to make significant strength gains on a weight training program (Fiataron et al. 1990).”
The bottom line is that you are never too old. Consult with dad’s physician and a qualified fitness expert before deciding on the right combination resistance training exercises for him.
One of the best things you can do as you age is to improve your balance. Better balance means less risk of falling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
There are devices that can help your older loved one track their fitness progress AND give them access to support if something goes wrong. That is important because it will help motivate dad to set goals and keep moving. And these devices let you know when you need to step in with words of encouragement and praise.
You may want to consider some of these tips that were written for mom, particularly group classes and Tai Chi, which women seem to migrate to but which men could benefit from participating.
Get dad off the couch. It will reduce your stress level! Coach Jim Valvano once said:
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”
Now it’s time to show how much you believe in him.
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