As we age, it gets harder to get in the physical activity we need to stay healthy. Add in the stay-at-home constraints of a pandemic, and the challenge inclines even more.
While you may have altered your routine to get your exercise in, your parents might still be lacking the physical activity they need (Galloza, 2017). Regular exercise for older adults over 65 years of age is essential for reducing the risk of falls, as well as other conditions like cardiovascular disease; regular exercise can also improve overall physical function and quality of life (Galloza, 2017).
Luckily, there are many options to get the older adults in your life moving, even if they are at home most of the day.
Getting Your Parents Moving
Before approaching the topic, be prepared to face a bit of push back. It’s hard for people to jump into an exercise program if they have been sedentary for a while (Schutzer, 2004). Keep the conversation positive by focusing on the beneficial aspects of physical activity and even the potential for some unexpected fun!
Consider activity guidelines
Current guidelines recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. However, older adults may not be able to meet this goal, which is perfectly okay (Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2018).
Talk to your parents about what is achievable based on their overall health, which may be impacted by chronic conditions. Your parents can reap the benefits of physical activity by exercising as much as possible, working up to a goal of moving aerobically for 30 minutes at least three times per week.
Suggest aerobic activities that allow your parents to simultaneously hold a conversation, like walking or hiking. If your parents have mobility issues, recommend alternatives, such as a reclined bike, that better suits their needs.
Incorporate age-appropriate strength, balance, and flexibility training as well. Get creative and help your parents think outside the conventional gym box—carrying groceries home and digging through the yard while gardening are excellent substitutions for weight lifting, for example (Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2018).
Reassure your parents that they can start slowly and ease into increasing their activity a little bit at a time–even if they just take a walk around the block at first.
Consider providing your parent with a step tracker, or show them how to use one on their phone. They may find it satisfying to see their steps increase over time. Many of these programs also track additional activity goals as well as food and water intake. Gamifying these milestones can motivate older adults to stick with a program while also increasing their awareness of optimal nutrition.
Figure out what they enjoy
Everyone likes to move in different ways—talk to your parents about activities that excite them.
If mindful movement is their cup of tea, low-intensity exercises like yoga and Tai Chi provide numerous benefits and can easily be done at home. Many stretches can also be done while sitting or using a chair for assistance.
There’s no better way to your help parents stay on top of their fitness routine than by joining them yourself—even if it’s over a video call. Having a workout buddy can boost the health benefits of exercise; it also helps create consistency by sticking to certain days and times each week for your workouts (Kanamori. 2016).
If you are unable to schedule workouts with your parents, see if any neighbors or friends would be interested in participating. Exercising is an effective way to socialize, even from a distance—support both the body and mind.
Remember to be positive and encourage your parents to do as much as they can without pushing themselves too far to avoid injury. Providing them with different exercise options and encouraging a social component could really make a difference in their health.
Talk with a personalized care team to find more about how to help get your parents moving.