In this time of heightened safety concerns and restrictions relating to COVID-19, it is especially important for older adults to make physical activity a priority. The list of benefits resulting from physical activity is long: It promotes healthy aging and longevity, improves brain health, strengthens muscles and bones, and reduces health care costs and the risks of chronic diseases and conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Incorporating movement into your daily routine is also a good strategy to combat the loneliness and sedentary lifestyle that many are experiencing as a result of the pandemic.
August is National Wellness Month, and in honor of this campaign, here’s a look at several ways older adults can identify and remove obstacles for an active lifestyle, ideas for motivation and tips on improving overall wellness.
Obstacles to physical activity
Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. A 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found only 1 in 4 adults (ages 18-64) achieved their recommended weekly amount of physical activity. If you’re looking to get started or increase your activity levels, the path to least resistance is coupling interest with ability. Identify physical activities that you enjoy and modify them to your abilities. (Always discuss with your doctor when determining what level of physical activity is right and safe for you.)
Many health care providers offer incentives such as free gym memberships, pedometers to help track your steps, or rewards for choosing healthy lifestyle options if you agree to log your progress. If you are on Medicare or getting ready to sign up for Medicare coverage, your Medicare insurance adviser can review available programs and incentives.
Mix it up. Look for ways to incorporate a variety of activities when building a weekly activity schedule. Household chores like vacuuming or mowing all count toward that targeted amount of daily or weekly activity. What is that target? For those 65 and older who are healthy and have no limiting conditions, the CDC recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (specifically anything that gets your heart beating faster) and two weekly sessions of muscle-strengthening activities (meaning anything that makes your muscles work more than usual).
Find a walking buddy! Workout buddies hold each other accountable and help motivate one another while socializing at the same time.
Reward your dedication. If there is a task for which you lack motivation, couple it with a reward, like being able to watch a TV show you really enjoy after finishing your physical therapy or strength-building sessions.
If you have difficulty with daily activities such as walking or climbing stairs, know that there are safe alternatives, such as exercises to do from your chair — be it your office chair or wheelchair. The CDC offers guides for seated stretches, tai chi and even seated yoga, and there are plenty of YouTube channels that focus on senior fitness, strength training and balance.
Other ways to improve wellness
Water is overlooked as a major component of wellness, especially in older adults. Water is responsible for transporting nutrients throughout our body, which increases energy and overall health. It’s also especially important as we age to lubricate our joints through increased hydration.
Assess your snacking. While it’s fine to snack between meals, look at what and how you’re snacking. Do you eat directly out of the bag? Try portioning out a recommended serving of that popcorn. Do you have healthy options accessible? Try keeping the less nutritious foods out of sight. Reduce your sugar intake for a mental boost. Not only is excess sugar consumption linked to diabetes and heart disease, it can negatively affect our energy levels and moods.
Just breathe. Just as water is underrated as a key to wellness, so is intentional deep breathing. Stress negatively impacts your health, and these days, many people find themselves increasingly stressed and anxious. Stress can actually interfere with breathing, which contributes to tension and even pain. Are you holding your breath or maybe taking shorter, more shallow breaths? Try the 4-4-8 breathing technique. Designed for relaxation and focus, this technique has three easy steps: Breathe in through your nose while counting to four, hold the inhale for a count of four, then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
Wellness is an ongoing commitment, and sometimes one of the most important factors is encouragement. Healthy lifestyle decisions are often easier when you’re being cheered on and there is accountability involved. Let friends and family members know that you’re starting new healthy habits and need their support. And be sure to give yourself credit for any changes you make, even small ones. Because when it comes to physical activity, every little bit helps.
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