Nicki Bones is operations director at SweetTree Home Care Services
At SweetTree we are passionate about exercise and have seen the benefits first hand on many of our clients. We encourage our carers to get active with clients wherever possible (with the consent of a medical professional) as the positive impact on their health and wellbeing is clearly evident. Increased fitness, strength, confidence, coordination and mood are just some of the positive affects experienced by our clients. Whether a stroll to the high street or simple stretches and exercise routines in the home, our clients and carers alike find it rewarding and enjoyable.
Many people wrongly think they’re too old to exercise; yet health experts advise that regular exercise for the elderly offers great benefits, including extending lifespan. Sadly, only one in four people between the ages of 65 and 74 exercises regularly. According to the National Institute for Aging, exercise is good for people of any age and can ease symptoms of many chronic conditions. Many symptoms we link to old age, such as weakness and poor balance, are actually linked to inactivity, rather than age – even more reason for the elderly to get active! For individuals who are frail, seated exercise can also prove very beneficial, promoting cardio vascular fitness, balance, strength and engagement.
Positive impact of exercise for the elderly include:
Live longer – According to the World Health Organization, leading a sedentary lifestyle is one of ten leading causes of death and disability. Gentle, regular exercise such as walking or swimming can increase lifespan by around three to five years.
Prevent falls – Exercise improves muscle strength and bone density, which is helpful in reducing the risk of falls as it can also improve balance. The World Health Organization says that regular exercise can reduce the risk of falling by 10- 20% and reduce the risk of having a hip fracture by 40%.
Reduced risk of stroke or heart attack – Regular cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking, cycling or light housework – anything that raises the heart rate and leaves you moderately out of breath – will increase blood flow to the heart and boost your overall health. Exercise also reduces stroke risk by 20%-40% and heart attack risk by around 40%.
Better bone density – Weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging will help to increase the strength of bones and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures. According to The National Osteoporosis Society, one in two women and one in five men will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Less joint pain – Regular exercise helps you to manage your weight and reduces stress on joints. For every half a kilo you gain in excess weight, you’ll add about 1.5 kilos of pressure to your knees. Pressure to the hips increases six-fold. Maintaining a healthy body weight is also good for your heart and overall health.
Better mental focus and memory – Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps to boost mental focus, concentration and alertness, as well as concentration. It also boosts the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with memory, which can be affected as we age. A 2012 study found that those who were moderately fit performed better on memory tests than those who were unfit.
Reduced risk of developing dementia – Being sedentary in later years can increase the risk of developing dementia, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The study, which analysed over 1600 older adults over five years, found that those who did not exercise were more likely to develop dementia than those who did.
Prevent or delay disease – Exercise is an effective remedy for many chronic conditions. Studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes benefit from regular activity. It can also help in management of high cholesterol; and keeping cholesterol levels within a healthy range can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Better mood and mental wellbeing – Regular exercise can release feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and endorphins) that improve mood and can also reduce immune system chemicals that can increase depression.
More confidence and independence – A study a study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examined exercise in the elderly and found that training led to improvements in functional reach and balance and reduced participants’ fear of falling.