People are living longer than ever and the World Health Organization reported last month that it has seen “dramatic” gains in life expectancy with no signs of slowing down. It’s imperative that elderly individuals maintain a healthy lifestyle as they age. Here are a few tips on how to stay healthy, energized and young at heart:
- Exercise! Remember your heart is a muscle, and it needs a workout. There are many proven benefits of exercise: decreased blood pressure, decreased risk of coronary artery disease and weight loss. Regular exercise can even improve your mood, sleep and arthritic pain. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program and remember to start slowly with incremental increases. Examples include walking, stair climbing, using the elliptical or playing low-intensity sports. You can break up bouts of exercise throughout the day if you don’t have time for one longer workout.
- Strength Train: Individuals of all ages can see improvements in strength with proper training, which helps to prevent muscle wasting. Focus on form and start with light weights or gravity and gradually increase the weight as it gets easier. Perform two sets of 8-12 repetitions and take a day off in between working the same body part. If you’re not a member of a gym with access to weight machines, use hand-held weights, body weight or resistance bands for the same benefit.
- Maintain flexibility: Good flexibility helps to maintain proper posture and alignment in your body. It also gives you freedom of movement and can help with balance and decreasing falls. Stretching should not be painful! Hold each stretch 20-30 seconds, two-three repetitions and perform on both sides of your body. Muscles that are often tight are calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and anterior chest.
- Maintain balance: Balance is an easy thing to improve and can have a huge impact on your health by decreasing the risk of falls. To measure your balance, stand on one leg with your eyes open (make sure you have something to hold onto if you need it) and time how long you can stand there. Individuals who are unable to stand on one leg more than 5 seconds have more than a two times increased risk of an injurious fall. You can easily challenge your balance in three ways:
- Decrease your base of support: bring your feet together so they touch. Then stand heel-toe with your feet touching in a vertical line. Next try one leg.
- Alter the surface: try standing on sand, on a rolled up towel, pillow or foam.
- Close your eyes: We get a lot of information about balance from our visual system, so close your eyes to make it even harder.
Always be in a safe environment with something steady to hold onto as your practice.
Sarah Andrus is a doctor of physical therapy with the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery.