Noticing your elderly loved one spending much more time watching television than they used to? Finding they are less and less keen on leaving the house? Striking up a conversation about staying active might be difficult or awkward, but it could literally add years to their life. Lead a healthy discourse on healthy living with your loved one with these tips:
Acknowledge their Fears
Reasons for laying low and avoiding activity can seem perfectly sound - perhaps they are afraid of falling? Or they already experience back or joint pain and think added movement will exacerbate the problem? Knowing why your aging parent wants to avoid activity is the first step towards getting them up and moving. Routine activity has its own healing properties so illness, injury or even surgery benefit from gentle to moderate exercise at the right time. Encourage your loved one to speak with their doctor about which type of exercises would have the greatest impact for them and which to avoid.
Also know that depression and anxiety, associated especially with feelings of loneliness or losing their sense of independence and mental clarity, can drive older adults to isolate themselves and avoid getting out and interacting with others. Recognizing the signs of depression and acknowledging your parent’s reluctance is not easy, but can shift a conversation about staying active towards a higher arching understanding of potential depression and how to seek help.
Focus on the Benefits
Before you discuss ways to empower your parent to exercise, it’s important to know why being active is so important. Turns out, staying active in your Golden Years has even more benefits than exercising in your 20s even. Why? Because the negative effects of not staying active and eating right are so much more drastic in your 70s, 80's and 90's. With regular exercise comes increased blood circulation, endorphin production, and muscle strengthening. This helps:
Prevent heart disease and hypertension
Control diabetes and maintain healthy weight
Improve cognitive function and memory
Reduce muscle inflammation and joint pain
Build bone density and fight osteoporosis
Promote balance, coordination, and flexibility
And help you sleep better
Helping your loved one focus on goals for their own health and fitness encourages them to understand the benefits of exercise and get passionate about working it into their daily schedule.
Give Them Ideas
Having the conversation about exercise and staying active with your parent? Motivate them with fun, creative ideas for activities they will enjoy - exercise is easier when it doesn’t seem like work! Take into account their mobility level, likes and dislikes, as well as their timing and availability for scheduling regular exercise. Brainstorm with them ideas for staying active like:
Swimming or water aerobics
Brisk 20 to 30-minute walks or moderate hikes
Gentle yoga or chair yoga
Low-impact weight lifting
Participating in a charity walkathon
Volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter
Playing tennis or golfing
Help Them Succeed
Don’t let your conversation be the end of your participation. Go the next step and assist your loved one in finding senior centers, gyms and other classes near them which they can attend to get a jump on their exercise game. Offer to coordinate transportation for them, or even go as far as to join them! Setting up a weekly “fitness date” where you visit and go for a walk or do yoga together, for example, gives them both a way to stay active as well as something to look forward to!