The importance of exercise for seniors’ wellness

Photo by KBO Bike

As we get older it’s increasingly important to stay active. According to the World Health Organization, physical activity can prevent the onset of impairments that lead to an increased risk for falls. In recent research by the Public Health Agency of Canada, falls are cited as the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among seniors. Research also shows that older adults who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from mental and emotional health issues like anxiety and depression. Not only is exercise good for seniors, but staying active helps them live independently.

According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for those aged 65 and over just 150 minutes of exercise per week has been shown to help manage and prevent diseases like arthritis, heart disease, and even 8 different types of cancer in addition to an overall lower risk of mortality.

One of the ways regular exercise helps, is to reduce falls by improving strength and balance. Some 85% of all senior injury-related hospitalizations are caused by falls, with falls being the cause of 95% of all hip fractures.

“Staying active and educated are two incredibly important ways to keep from becoming part of those statistics,” said Heather Wiebe, resident kinesiologist at United’s Garrison Green, a Calgary-based Assisted Living community.

“Maintaining balance and mobility is essential to aging successfully,” said Professor Debra Rose, of Fullerton University, in her book Fallproof. “In addition to making it possible to perform basic activities of daily living, such as rising from a chair or climbing a flight of stairs, good balance forms the foundation on which a healthy, active lifestyle is built.”

United’s full-time kinesiologists, Heather at Garrison Green and Cynthia Chiu and Amanda Rande at United’s Fish Creek community, have created a wide range of activities including risk assessments, exercises, games and education for residents to increase their overall health by improving balance, strength and proprioceptive awareness (the body’s ability to sense its location, movements and actions.)

Hugh, a resident of United’s Fish Creek community, has Parkinson’s so is very aware of balance. “Cynthia assessed my ability to balance and I do exercises to help me improve my sense of balance. Because of my work with her and Amanda, I’m more aware now of my concerns with balance so I use a walker or walking poles to improve my stability. Just being aware of your limitations is an important first step.”

“One of the interactive, social and team programs is based on well-known TV programs such as Jeopardy and Family Feud where residents are challenged to find the right answers, and/or participate in the physical challenge,” said Heather. “Another program is a floor-to-standing workshop where we teach residents how to return to standing should they take a fall. It’s an area that doesn’t get much attention, however we think is very important to a plan, if a fall happens.”

Allan, a resident at Garrison Green, is keenly aware of the need to exercise to maintain strength and stability. “It can be quite debilitating when a person falls. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the odd fall but haven’t broken anything. But I now work with Heather on exercises to keep my balance and strength up.”

While there are many group-activity classes for seniors every individual will have their own needs and limitations so it’s important to find what works best for you. If exercise is too easy or too difficult, you might not be interested in continuing so start small and work your way up.

Motivation is a huge part of starting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Find activities that keep you engaged and interested and exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. It’s all about maintaining and improving quality of life.