Although people are living longer and often remaining healthy until a greater age, many people still experience problems with moving about.
This may be due to disability, illness or chronic pain and it can make starting exercise seem out of the question. If your loved one is less mobile, you can encourage them to keep as fit as they can, which, in turn, will have positive effects on their general well-being. In many elderly care establishments, regular activity or exercise sessions are an essential part of the week.
Activity rather than exercise
Thinking about embarking on an exercise routine can be off-putting to some elderly people with reduced mobility, so rather than suggesting this, it may be better just to encourage your loved one to move a little more around their home or perhaps engage in some activities such as dusting or other light housework tasks.
If you look after your loved one at home, try encouraging them to help with some of the steps involved in cooking a meal. If they have companion care, ensure the carer is aware of the importance of keeping them active where possible.
If you or a carer normally dress your loved one, see if they can help themselves, by putting some garments on independently. If your relative receives care at home, good live-in care agencies will closely match the carer with the recipient to ensure their needs are met fully, encouraging them to walk around in the house if they can. Even moderate activity like walking from room to room can stretch the muscles and help with breathing, so is well worth encouraging.
If your loved one is mobile enough to make swimming possible, this can offer many health benefits. Taking your elderly relative to a warm swimming pool can be an enjoyable social occasion as well as easing their aching joints. Because the water provides support, it can make movement easier, and it allows the muscles to work without bearing weight.
If your loved one has severe mobility problems, they may not be able to manage swimming, although many pools do have provision for disabled people. Some have special hoists that can lower the person into the water and lift them out at the end of the session.
Some have adapted changing areas for those with special needs, so if you feel your loved one might enjoy swimming, why not contact their GP to find if there are any local therapy pools you could use.
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The less mobile an elderly person is, the more at risk of falls they are. Not only does inactivity weaken the muscles but balance and coordination also become affected. However, there are light exercises they can do that can improve both balance and coordination.
Tai Chi, for example, involves gentle stretching and breathing and will not tire your loved one too much. If they are able, gentle dancing to their favourite music at home can be an enjoyable way of getting some exercise, improving balance and boosting their mood too. People who need dementia care are often very responsive to music, especially to tunes they remember from their youth.
Gentle yoga exercises can also be suitable for people who are less mobile, and some can be carried out in a seated position at home. Look for teaching DVDs or instructions on YouTube to help you start yoga with your loved one.
As well as you or their live-in carer being able to support your loved one to do seated exercises, there are also sessions run throughout the UK that may be helpful to them. Some Nia (non-impact aerobics) sessions are suitable for people who need to remain seated or who are only able to stand for a limited period, so contact your local group to enquire if they would be appropriate for your loved one.
Seated exercises can help to strengthen many different body areas, including the back, chest and abdomen, as well as the arms and legs.
It can be worthwhile investing in some small, low-cost pieces of exercise equipment for your loved one if you want to encourage them to exercise at home. Using wrist weights or resistance bands can help the muscles to work a little harder when doing chair-based exercises. An inflatable ball can be useful for many different movements including helping to keep the arms straight while stretching and holding between the feet if your loved one lies on the floor and tries to lift their legs.
It is crucial that your elderly loved one eats healthily to remain as fit as they can. People who do not move around very much often have smaller appetites and may not be able to take in sufficient vitamins, minerals and fuel. If your relative has a reduced appetite, try to tempt them with high protein snacks and light meals, particularly before they attempt any exercise.
Fluid is also very important, and the elderly person should drink plenty of water. This is particularly important after increasing the amount of movement they do because they will lose fluid even if they don’t notice. People who become dehydrated can experience pains and cramps, as well as feeling tired after even mild exercise.
There are many steps you can take to help your elderly loved one stay as active and mobile as possible, and the key is to tailor any interventions to the individual. If you are unsure about what might be appropriate for your loved one, their doctor should be able to advise about suitable exercise.