Episode 021: Day 12 – Stay Active To Stay Healthy

Episode Description:

Host Zack Demopoulos launches his 30 day preparation plan to care for an aging adult.  In Day 12, Zack talks about how staying active as you age will keep go far in keeping you healthy.

Show Notes:

Day 12:  Staying Active To Stay Healthy

Have your parents or an aging adult you know ever said these things?  “I am too old to start exercising” or “I have too many aches and pains to exercise” or even “I am afraid to exercise I may fall-”.  Based on research and experience, this is not really true, at least not for the majority of aging adults.  We’ll discuss this topic on Day 12 of the 30 Day Preparation Plan To Care For An Aging Parent.

Welcome to the Raising ‘Rents Podcast.  This show is sponsored by ComForCare, a national home care provider that will help you live your best life possible.  Day 12 of the 30 Day Preparation Plan is the next step in preparing a plan to become a caregiver. Keep in mind as we go throughout this process that our primary goal for family caregiving, regardless of circumstances, is to provide a loved one with a comfortable, caring environment in which to grow old.

Not too long ago, I was interviewing a Medical Exercise Specialist for a regular Raising ‘Rents episode that will be aired in the future and during the one hour we spent together in the gym he was operating out of, I must have witnessed about 20 people over the age of 80 exercising!  You had some lifting light weights, others on a treadmill or stationary bike, some stepping over miniature hurdles, and others using elastic bands to stretch.  I was very amazed and impressed with the focus, energy and determination I was witnessing.  Yeah, I also saw the chit chatting and socializing you would expect with the older generation, but really no different than what I see in my own gym in the mornings where you have folks’ half their ages, even one fourth of their age.  I asked my guest for some insight and the way he explained it to me made sense—typically a person tries out exercising at a later age either because they had physical therapy for an incident like a broken hip or some other hospitalization and they really got some positive benefits from it and want to continue feeling those benefits or someone else experienced it and told them to try it.  They continue to do it on a regular basis because they continue to feel good from it.  He pointed out a woman who was walking with a walker around the gym.  He said she is 93 yrs old, and over a year ago suffered a cerebral hematoma and was bedridden.  He worked with her for six months and got her walking again.  Almost every day she continues the ritual of increasing her distance, today she is walking over 300 feet, and though she still must use a walker (many people her age do), the last few feet she walks completely unassisted into the arms of her husband who rewards her with a big kiss.  He’s 97 and loving it.

As I think back to the last eight years providing home care in my community, I can almost say with confidence that the older adults who appeared to do very well, usually the spouse or relative of someone we are caring for, were relatively more active than their peers.  Now that is not a scientific study.  But there are studies that support this.  I read an article recently on a website called HELPGUIDE.ORG titled “Senior Exercise and Fitness Tips” by Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: April 2017 and they referenced a recent Swedish study that found that physical activity was the number one contributor to longevity, adding extra years to your life—even if you don’t start exercising until your senior years. I really like the statement they make…. “getting active is not just about adding years to your life, it’s about adding life to your years”.

When 30 year olds were compared to 60 year olds in an exercise program, it was found the effects of strength training on muscle mass and strength was very similar in both groups.  Not what you would expect.  This proves why it is never late to start an exercise program and receive valuable benefits even if you have not exercised in the past.  And if you not convinced yet, listen to this.  When 90 year olds were studies during a strength training program, it was found that muscle mass and strength increased as well.

In fact, the 90 yr olds increased their strength by 31%, increased their muscle mass by about 10%, and their walking speed improved by 48%.  The benefits of strength training allowed them to walk more confidently which is going to carry over to everyday life and their overall functional mobility.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2342214

And those are physical benefits.  How about cognitive benefits, you know, working out the brain.   I read another article about this “Which is better for keeping your mind fit: physical or mental activity?”  Heidi Godman  Harvard Health Letter.  She shares some impressive results from different studies.  In one that looked at whether physical or mental activity was better for the brain, a surprising result was what really mattered was amount of activity was more important for stimulating the brain than the type of activity.   Another study has shown that exercise alone protects the brain. People in their seventies who exercised the most had the least brain shrinkage and fewer white matter brain lesions, which can be signs of dementia. And one other study showed that older adults who exercised regularly reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40%.  Though the direct causes have not been definitively understood, it’s likely that regular exercise can increase the volume of brain regions important for memory and thinking.  Still yet another study, and this is really important because if there are people who refuse or can’t do the physical exercise, has shown that mental activity alone can also protect the brain. It was demonstrated that there exists a direct link between the amount of cognitive activity, such as reading the newspaper or playing chess, and the level of cognitive function in the following year. The author also shares that she reported on a study that found that engaging in meaningful activities such as volunteering or a treasured hobby promotes cognitive health in old age.

It’s funny that the younger generations will work out to look good, lose weight, get stronger.  The older generation is no different—but they also benefit from feeling sharper, more energetic, and experience a greater sense of well-being.

So why do aging adults stop exercising, slow down, or become sedentary?  Many times, it is due to health problems.  A lot of it is because they are afraid they will fall down.  Many think it is not for them—never has been, so it never will.  It could be aches and pains.  It could be weight.  A lot of reasons exist—some legitimate, and some in their head.  Either way, it’s real if they are thinking it and perhaps they have not seen or heard the about the benefits like the folks I saw in the gym during my interview.  Perhaps it will be beneficial if you can help them baby step their way back to being active or starting an exercise program.  An active lifestyle is extremely important for their health and it has been proven.  Besides, it could be a major factor on their future—it can possibly keep them independent longer not relying on others to live safely, keep them out of the hospital by not falling.  Keep chronic diseases from not becoming chronic like improved immunity, better blood pressure for the heart and better bone density to prolong the onset of osteoarthritis, and lower the risk of dementia related diseases like Alzheimer’s.   The positive impact it has on them mentally also has a significant positive impact such as better

So, nobody likes to be told that they have to go exercise.  And you don’t have to go crazy with this either.  You can combine a nice mix of physical and mental exercises during a regular week.  There are ways to approach this and it does not have to look like exercise.

A good goal can be 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week, but any activity is better than none. 150 minutes is 15 minutes of activity 10 times a week.  Or 30 minutes of exercise 5 x a week.   It’s achievable.

On the mental side, do something you already enjoy.  Things like “the seek and find” puzzles my dad did every day all day long after he had his stroke.  It could be reading, volunteering, participating in a club, building something….do things that are engaging and not passive like watching the boob tube…that is the TV for you younger generations.

Or you can combine physical and mental activities.  Like listening to an audiobook while doing some exercises like stretching, walking, or lifting weights.  Have you ever been to the mall early in the morning?  You will find many older adults walking.  And many of them are walking with others engaged in conversation.  This kind of conversation is better than sitting around drinking coffee.

What I have also seen become more and more popular are classes that older adults are interested in attending usually with their own age group or mixed.  Classes like yoga, Tai Chi or something called Qi Gong—mispronouncing them but you can find classes like this at places like the Y or community centers, and light aerobics either in a pool or in a gym.

There is new trend with bikes.  They now have an electric bike that mixes manual pedaling with electric pedaling.  Someone who may have bad knees may have challenges going up hills but if they can use some of the electric pedaling and not avoid biking at all.

Keep in mind that safety is always the priority.  Make sure if your parent needs it, have a medical clearance to start an exercise program.  Find out if there is anything that should be avoided.  Obviously like anyone exercising, if someone feels dizzy or short of breath, have chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat or experience pain, they should cease the activity and see a doctor.

If your parent has not really engaged in physical activity before, start slow and build steadily.  It’s not different if you or a younger person was just starting out.  Always remember to warm up.

I found a pretty good site that you should check out for plenty of ideas.  It is National Institute On Aging’s site GO4Life.  It has tip sheets, exercise guides, and work outs among other great resources. 

I hope this has motivated you to help your parent remain active or start getting active.  I hope this has motivated you as well.  Remember that usually the benefits outweigh the risks.   For example, it is well known that the risk of falling and getting hurt is related to the strength of your legs.  The stronger your legs, the lower the risk.  I have seen too many falls occur in my business that were avoidable.  I hope what we talked about will help avoid a fall in your family.

So that’s Day 12.  Join us for Day 13 as we talk about the long-distance adult child.

Thank you for listening to the Raising ‘Rents podcast.  This was Episode 21.  If you have any questions or feedback, please go to our website www.raisingrents.com and click on the “Contact” tab.  You can also find the show notes and references to anything we talked about.  Until we talk again, remember that our parents raised us, the least we can do is help raise them. Talk to you later.

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