The long-awaited arrival of warm weather in Louisville means different things for different people. For older adults who may have spent the majority of winter indoors, the change in season means more chances to explore the great outdoors — and to enjoy better health as a result. Here’s a closer look at why staying active matters so much for seniors, along with tips for helping aging loved ones move more this summer.
The Activity Imperative
A growing body of evidence attests to the profound value of healthy lifestyle behaviors for seniors. These include everything from eating right to exercising. Now, according to a study underway by the Alzheimer’s Association, evidence suggests that lifestyle changes could keep the onset of dementia at bay. Scientists have good reason to be hopeful. The research is based on a Finnish study, which determined that certain lifestyle changes can have a critical impact on senior health and wellbeing.
Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer Maria Carrillo told Texas Public Radio of the findings, “When [participants] combined nutrition, physical activity, cognitive stimulation through a computer program, and aggressive cardiovascular control, they found that over two years of doing this they reduced their cognitive decline by 30 percent.”
There are other reasons, too, to encourage seniors to exercise. For starters, physical exercise leads to the release of mood-boosting endorphins, which can help seniors enjoy a healthier outlook. It can even reduce symptoms of depression! Exercise can also help keep seniors connected due to its social nature, while simultaneously improving strength, mobility, stamina, weight control, healing, and self-sufficiency among older adults.
Factor in the benefits of fresh air, sunshine, and vitamin D for seniors, and the reasons to get seniors outside continue to grow.
The takeaway is clear: Whether your aging loved one is in perfect cognitive health or in need of memory care, outdoor activity can play a valuable role in positive aging.
No Better Time Than Now
Unfortunately, the combination of cold temperatures, inclement weather, and early nightfall can keep seniors housebound and inactive in the winter. However, the shift to summer eliminates most of these barriers, thereby opening the door to more active living for seniors.
Loved ones who are eager to help their aging loved ones reap the many benefits of active living can help them in several ways — starting with safety. Before beginning a new exercise routine, seniors should consult their healthcare team to make sure they’re cleared for increased physical activity. Plus, your aging loved one’s doctor may have advice and insights to share regarding best practices for older adults and exercising.
If your aging loved one has been relatively sedentary until now, start small and build from there. Remember: being physically fit doesn’t have to mean running a marathon. Even a walk around the neighborhood can help seniors lead fuller and more active lives.
Experts also recommend focusing on the functional. “I like to make sure that the exercises we do are able to carry over to regular life,” physical therapist Douglas Ebner told US News & World Report.
Struggling with getting your aging loved one to embrace everything that exercise has to offer? Offer to join in the fun. Not only can this turn out to be the motivation seniors need to get moving, but you can also take advantage of the benefits of an active lifestyle. This concept applies whether your aging loved one lives independently or in a senior community. “Family plays a critical role in being there and serving as partners with staff at a facility,” geriatrician Tanya Gure told US News & World Report.
Speaking of motivation, there are many ways to incorporate more activity into daily life. Choosing an activity that your aging loved one enjoys can lead to more sustainable changes.
While seniors have a lot to gain from being active in the summer, there are also some hazards — especially as temperatures soar. Caregivers can reduce the risk of sunburn, dehydration, and heatstroke by making sure their loved ones wear a hat, sunscreen, and protective eyewear; drink plenty of water; and are aware of the dangers of heat stroke. If they (or you) notice warning signs like heavy breathing, a rapid pulse, or fainting, seek immediate medical attention.
Senior health comprises many dimensions, including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual wellness. Caregivers can support all of these aspects by encouraging aging loved ones to get out and about this summer.