At what age is exercise no longer important?

 

That’s a trick question—there is no age when exercise isn’t important.  Just because someone is elderly doesn’t mean they’re exempt from exercise!

 

group of elderly friends walking and linking arms

 

It does mean the exercise needs to be modified to match ability level and possible injuries or conditions such as arthritis.  What qualifies as exercise also shifts as someone ages.  When someone is young, it may take a jog or run to get their heart rate up, whereas an elderly senior may increase their heart rate just by walking. The important thing is to increase the heart rate and to get the blood and oxygen flowing.

 

Sadly, many seniors lead highly sedentary lives.  All too often, the lazy boy recliner becomes the centre of seniors’ worlds. They settle into the recliner first thing in the morning and watch television for a significant part of the day. They nap in the chair…they may even sleep in the chair all night as a surprising number of seniors tend to do.

 

The most activity they get is a few steps to the washroom and back.  Even then, I’ve met many seniors who intentionally limit their fluid intake to reduce the number of washroom trips required!  Going to the washroom may be the only activity they’re getting, and even then they’re limiting that.

 

A senior who has become accustomed to such a sedentary lifestyle will need to reintroduce activity gradually. Compared to their currently sedentary day, it does not take much effort to suddenly double activity levels! Simply getting up and out of their chair becomes a form of activity that cannot be taken for granted.

 

old lady seated in a wheelchair in a beautiful sunny day.

 

If you’re visiting someone who tends to be overly sedentary, encourage as much movement and activity as possible. As a precaution, you might avoid suggesting “exercise”.  Calling it “exercise” may be a barrier to some elderly people. If they don’t have the same context as you do for prioritizing fitness and exercise, they may not be inclined to want to “exercise”.

 

Instead, integrate basic activity into your visit.  Suggest sitting at the kitchen table together for a bit. Ask them to show you around. Step outside into the backyard.  While it may not qualify as exercise for you, it is most definitely an increase in activity for them. Be mindful to not push too hard too quickly, but continually suggest more and more activity—and increasing lengths of time out of the lazy boy chair.

 

When you’re in the kitchen together, ask them to reach items out of the cupboard. Bending, stretching, reaching are all basic movements that are necessary to maintaining a range of motion.  Ask for help folding laundry and putting it away.  The “excuses” you use to call your loved one into another room, or get them up and out of their chair are only limited by your imagination.

 

Before you know it, you might start getting a little devious in the creative ways you encourage more activity during your visit. The better you can disguise the increased activity as anything other than exercise, the more successful you’ll be!

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As we age our bodies experience physiological changes such as an increase/decrease in body weight, loss of muscle mass, absorption changes and sensory losses of taste & smell.

 

As our bodies change so do our nutritional needs! Eating nutritious meals in later years of life has been shown to have many positive side effects. Some of these include increased energy levels, the ability to recuperate quicker from illnesses, manage chronic health problems and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

 

healthy meal - smoked salmon on toast with arugula

 

The majority of older adults will have nutrition concerns such as dehydration, constipation, malnutrition, swallowing difficulties (known as dysphagia), diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis. That's why some seniors will be on a special diet such as low sodium, diabetic or pre-diabetic, thickened liquids or minced/pureed foods.

 

There are 5 special nutrient needs to consider for your elderly loved one. 

 

1. Protein

 

Most older adults aren’t eating enough protein in their diet! Protein supports a healthy immune system, it prevents muscle wasting and optimizes bone mass. As we age, we begin to lose muscle mass so we shouldn’t decrease our protein intake. Each meal should include at least 20-30 g of protein. Make sure there is a source of protein at all meals and throughout the day! For example, drink a glass of milk with your lunch or snack on nuts throughout the day. For your elderly loved one, a great snack with lots of protein could be a bottle of Ensure.

 

2. Calcium and Vitamin D

 

In a healthy body, bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. About 10% to 30% of the adult skeleton is replenished each year! As we age, our bones break down quicker than they can be built which leads to decreasing bone density. To help build our bones, we need calcium and vitamin D.

 

One way to increase calcium and vitamin D intake is to drink fortified beverages at meals, such as orange juice with vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements are also a great idea to increase intake. Another idea is to add powdered skim milk to beverages (coffee or tea) or to eat pudding/yoghurt for dessert! It can be tricky to increase your vitamin D intake but remember that calcium and vitamin D work together to build our bones.

 

 

3. Vitamin B12

 

This vitamin is needed to make DNA, red blood cells and helps to keep the nerves working properly. It has shown that Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to poor cognition, anemia, fatigue, depression, confusion and tingling in the hands and feet. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products and sometimes is added to other foods (e.g. soy products). That is why it is highly recommended for those on a vegan diet to take Vitamin B12 supplements. 

 

4. Fibre

 

Fibre needs are different between men and women over the age of 50. Men need about 30 g/day and women need about 21 g/day. Did you know that there are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble? Soluble fibre lowers cholesterol level, controls blood sugar, prevents colon cancer and assists with weight loss. Insoluble fibre promotes regularity and a healthy digestive system. Soluble fibres can be found in oatmeal, beans, lentils, nuts, and fruits. While insoluble fibres are found in whole grains, barley, dark leafy vegetables, brown rice, and root vegetable skins.

 

two bowls of oatmeal with peaches

 

It is recommended to have at least 6 servings of grain products a day. The easiest way to increase fibre is to always choose whole-grain products rather than refined and processed grains. It is also recommended to have 7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. When preparing vegetables and fruits, eat peels whenever possible and snack on fruit rather than candies.

 

5. Fluid

 

As we age our sense of thirst declines, therefore older adults are more likely to experience dehydration! If fluid intake is consistently low, older adults can experience symptoms of dehydration – thirst, dry lips and mouth, flushed skin, tiredness, dark strong urine, headache, fainting and low blood pressure. Older adults need a minimum of 6 cups of fluid per day to remain hydrated and healthy! Prioritize your fluid intake by carrying a water bottle throughout your day, drinking water as the first and last task in the day, and by eating soup for lunch/dinner. Don’t ignore thirst! Drink before you feel thirsty. Drink, drink and drink water to combat dehydration!

 

Start a healthy lifestyle today!

 

It can feel overwhelming to start eating healthy but it’s not impossible. Eating healthy can be fun! Look up healthy and delicious recipes and start cooking away with your loved one. If cooking is not your thing, consider prepared meals by this local catering business. They make incredible healthy delicious meals and snacks! It’s never too late to start eating healthy. Why not start today?

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