10 Tips to Staying Physically Active at Home as We Age
According to the Surgeon General, staying physically active as we get older is vital. In fact, it could be the key to being able to stay at home as we age. Physical activity makes us stronger and improves balance, lowering the likelihood of falling or fracturing bones. Staying physically active can reduce pain and increase stamina. Improving cognitive functioning and benefiting mental health are other key benefits, including decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Despite all the benefits of physical activity, it’s not uncommon to become less physically active as we age. It often takes some creativity and motivation to spur activity. Remember that movement is the goal—any kind of movement, not just formal exercises. Here are some tips to help keep you moving.
- Check with your doctor: Before starting any new physical activity, ensure you are cleared medically. Some activities may need to be adapted for your current capabilities; keep your pain levels, flexibility, and strength in mind.
- Sneak in socialization: Visiting friends and family, going to activities at a senior center or community center, attending faith community services, and volunteering are all fun activities, and they also require movement! Just getting in and out of a car can help keep up your strength and flexibility.
- Motivate for movement: Try exercising with your family and friends– everything is better together. Enlist others to help you and keep you accountable— positive reinforcement is key.
- Have fun and be playful: Dance, sing, smile, be silly, and laugh! Make exercising a time to look forward to. Music can be your greatest tool for motivation (and try using smart speakers which are handy for playing various genres of music). When Dad didn’t want to exercise, I played military march music that connected with his memories of his WWII army days, and he marched enthusiastically around the house.
- Build on your interests: Some enjoy jigsaw puzzles, which involve a lot of upper-body movement and stretching. My mom loved to play games and cards. After her stroke, she couldn’t play as many games, but she still played a mean game of Uno which involved walking to the table and sitting down (and getting up later), holding and dealing the cards, and stretching to place them in the middle of the table, and a lot of brain activity. Dad liked to bowl, so we set up inside nerf bowling and also tried virtual bowling.
- Engage in everyday activities: Don’t take these things for granted. Sometimes the routine things around the house are the best ways to keep moving on a daily basis. Even if you can’t do them independently, get some help with gardening, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, organizing, feeding pets, and shopping. These activities entail walking, stretching, bending, and sometimes carrying things. Simply getting up out of a chair and sitting back down ten times in a row is a great exercise for your legs and core. Make it safe to climb stairs at home; even if someone needs to be with you—it’s good exercise.
- Try organized exercise: Check out free online or in-person classes at the senior center or community center. Find out what the YMCA has to offer. SilverSneakers is an exercise program included with many Medicare plans that offers online and in-person classes, with over 15,000 local fitness locations, and thousands of live and recorded online classes. AARP’s Virtual Community Center offers hundreds of free online exercise and wellness activities every month.
- Try something new: Tai Chi and Qigong are great for balance. Pilates is excellent for core strength and managing back pain. Try using stretchy exercise bands for resistance. Yoga can be adapted to any level (including seated). I recently cared for a friend’s parents and her dad had light weights by his chair and frequently reached over and did arm exercises when he was bored. I got a used exercise bike and kept it in the family room where Dad could ride whenever he wanted to. Water aerobics is excellent exercise and easy on the joints. After my dad’s water arthritis exercise class ended, I hired an aquatic specialist to work with him 1:1 in the pool because I saw how good for him physically and cognitively.
- Use physical therapy wisely. Whenever you have a fall or a change in health status, ask your doctor to order physical therapy. It’s easier to push ourselves when a trained professional is guiding, encouraging, and protecting us. Physical therapists will also gave you appropriate exercises and activity adaptations to help maintain your strength and mobility after the therapy is over. If you do better with someone leading you in exercises, consider hiring a physical therapy student to help you continue your maintenance program at home.
- Take a walk: Never underestimate the power of a short walk. It may be the best form of exercise—mobilizing the joints, building strength, and improving heart health. Next time family or friends visit, instead of sitting on the couch watching TV together, take a short walk– around the house or around the block. It’s a great time to have a good conversation too.
Amy Goyer is a caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. A passionate champion for caregivers, she has also been one her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sister, and others. Connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.