Seniors Should Stay Fit, Body & Mind

As you get older, exercise is becoming too important to ignore. But with the intermittent lockdown and social distancing measures over a long period, many seniors need to keep themselves at home, and stay away from social activities and exercises in public places, be it jogging in the village, Tai-chi in the park, aerobics next to the mall, yoga at the gym, or light-sport in a courtyard.

Being quarantined at home may keep the fragile elderly away from COVID-19, but other health problems may arise, if they do not keep moving or exercising their body and mind. Generally, as people age, the functioning of the bodily systems, such as metabolism, food absorption, motor systems, as well as musculoskeletal systems slow down and become weaker. The body fatigues more easily and can result in depression. Regular exercise helps to slow down the degeneration of the systems and enhance their well-being.

The key to exercising “correctly” and “safely”  

Exercise does not only improve the quality of life of the elderly as a whole, it also helps the circulatory system, enhances the gas exchange, reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, cholesterol, and blood sugar. The motor system also improves.  The muscles, joints, and nervous system have better coordination, thus reducing the risk of falling. Moving the body can also help stimulate the internal organs.  Moreover, exercise also affects the secretion of sleep-induce substance that brings better sleep, reduces stress, and lower the risk of depression.

There are two types of exercise suitable for the elderly:

1. Cardiovascular exercise

Starting from light to more intense, such as walking, jumping rope, climbing stairs for a 30-45 minutes duration that is long enough to stimulate the cardiovascular system.

2. Coordination exercise

Older people are prone to falling resulting from the loss of balance. Easy coordination exercise to enhance neuromuscular connection are such as walking with crisscrossing legs forward and then backward in a zigzag pattern, high knee walk while alternately touching the elbow or hand to the opposite knee, or the easiest way is to exercise with video clips, like aerobics dance, because this promotes body coordination.

To get the most out of an exercise the program should be continuous for 30 – 45 minutes per session, at least 3 times per week.  It’s also important to warm up and cool down before and after every workout to avoid injury. And no matter what type of exercise, the important thing to pay attention to is “heart rate and breathing”. Elderly should always monitor their heart rate, using the formula “220 – age = maximum heart rate”. During light exercise, the heart rate should not exceed 50 percent of the maximum heart rate.

For example, the maximum heart rate for a 60-year-old person is 220–60 = 160, so the target heart rate for light exercise should be 80 beats per minute. And if you still feel fine during the exercise, and want to increase the intensity of the workout, you can increase your heart rate to 60-70 percent of your maximum heart rate (96-112 beats per minute) for a moderate exercise, but keep it under 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (128 beats per minute).

Your “home” is a good and the safe place for exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic. For seniors who have exercise equipment at home, don’t leave those machines idle. Get up and walk or run on a treadmill, or get moving on the exercise bike, etc.  But if you don’t own any equipment, you can exercise using what is available in your home. Walking up and down the stairs can also be an exercise. You may increase the number of laps, or speed it up.  You can also make it more fun by playing music while you walk as well.

Seniors with diabetes, heart disease, and blood pressure issues should not do intense exercises, because it may cause chest pain, arrhythmia, or even cardiac arrest. If you have any of these medical conditions  start with light exercises and gradually increase the intensity to make sure your body can handle them.

It is important to discuss your exercise routine with your healthcare practitioner. They can assist in helping you find an appropriate exercise program, and an exercise that can be affective in working with your underlying disease and condition. Your exercise program should be a part of your day that you look forward to doing- take care and be safe.

Source: Asst. Prof. Dr. Adit Chiradejnant, Lecturer, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, Chulalongkorn University

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