We do not stop exercising because we grow old - we grow old because we stop exercising.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper
Older woman with bicycle (photo: Paolo Margani, flickr creative commons)
My mother almost never exercises. That was understandable while her hip was healing. Now, she can walk with a walker and her orthopedic doctor has encouraged her to walk as much as she can and to do any exercises she gets from the physical therapist (PT) who is visiting her several times a week. My mother is only reluctantly cooperating. She will do the exercises when the PT is with her. She probably won't follow up when he isn't there. As far as walking, I think the extent of her walking is back and forth to the bathroom, which is 25 feet or so from her bed, and to the dining room for meals, about 50 feet from her bed. Outside walks, even when the weather is nice, aren't something my mom wants to do yet.
It's a shame because several years ago my mother was an active woman: she walked regularly, took aqua fitness classes, went to church, the local farmer's market, the library, and out to eat at least once a week. Those days are over. For one thing, she's less mobile and more frail. Mostly, however, she's afraid of falling and afraid of exercising. This isn't an irrational fear, but studies have shown that the fear of falling makes someone more likely to fall, not less likely. That's because of a cycle that starts with fear and ends with decreasing strength and fitness which can lead to more falls and more fear. (The reason that I refer to women in the title of this post is that, not surprisingly, many more women than men are afraid of falling.)My sister and my mother's caregiver have already caught Mom three times since she's been home, just as she was about to fall. Not good! On the other hand, we need to respect our aging parent's/spouse's fear. Listen to them when they say they're afraid - just don't encourage them to give into their fear and sit most of the day. The more we sit and are afraid, the more afraid we will be.
Practicing Tai Chi in Beijing (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
It doesn't have to be that way. Another study shows that: Exercising Prevents Falls. That's a nice way of saying, "Move it or lose it." However you say it, it's absolutely true. Here are some good exercises for aging people:
The main thing is to get your aging parent/partner up and moving. Sadly, this is easier said than done. Start gently. My mom, for example, will (or used to) walk laps around the house and for a while she would go out for a short walk every day, even if it was just down the driveway and back. As caregivers, we often have so much to do that we forget to take the time for exercising or give up too quickly when a parent or spouse refuses to cooperate. It's kind of like kids and broccoli: you can't just offer an unfamiliar vegetable to a child once. And if they don't like broccoli, try carrots; if they don't like walks, try gentle yoga. Sign up for a class together. Take them to the library or another location they enjoy, where they can walk as part of the visit. Enlist a friend or grandchild or even pay someone to walk with your parent. Whatever you do, don't give up. And, something I realize now, that if your aging parent/spouse is already exercising, make sure they continue. It's much easier to maintain an exercise regime than to restart one! (granddaughter helping grandmother walk, photo: Rosie O'Beime, flicker creative commons)
Next time: How the built environment encourages or discourages exercising.