May 5th, 2020 | COVID-19 Helpful Information
Reverse muscle wasting, prevent falls, decrease depression, especially during isolation.
Some of us don’t even want to hear the E-word (exercise). Not that anybody should want to be a body-builder at retirement age, but there are better reasons to work a little bit of workout into your routine. And it’s not hard to do.
First, the why.
Let’s think of exercise as something other than what you do to be an athlete or even something that you do for recreation. Start thinking of exercise as something you “take,” like nutrition or a necessary medicine. In this case, you’re “taking” something to counter the effects of aging on your system. And, for immediate relief from the effects of isolation, you’ll find light to moderate exercise gives you a sense of accomplishment, gets oxygen to your brain and improves the overall outlook.
Exercise makes up for what your body is not doing quite as well for you as it used to. One example: you take food in the morning, the healthy body releases insulin, and among other things, insulin keeps the body from tearing down its own muscle tissue. When you’re young, this happens more effectively. When you age, the process results in muscle atrophy (muscle wasting). This has consequences beyond just not being as strong as you once were or having a harder time building strength with exercise. It increases the risk you’ll fall and break a bone.
A research team found that three light workouts every week for 20 weeks increased blood flow to the legs enough to actually reverse muscle wasting. This light to moderate amount of exercise protects
Then, there’s the brain.
"Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain," said Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science whose research has confirmed much of the connection between food and the health of the brain.
“Diet, exercise and sleep have the potential to alter our brain health and mental function .... This raises the exciting possibility that changes in diet are a viable strategy for enhancing cognitive abilities, protecting the brain from damage, and counteracting the effects of aging."
(“Good Diet, Exercise Keep Brain Healthy,” livescience.com, July 09, 2008.)
Where the body goes, the mind follows.
Brittany Tallhamer DPT, ORT/L, is a Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist at Integrated Physical Therapy Services (integratedpts.com). In partnership with our Windsor Senior Living Communities in Florida, they provide professional wellness services and help residents with the challenges of aging.
“The effects of exercise on the brain are profound, benefitting health and cognition,” said Tallhamer. “With the proper exercise, you’re addressing the health of the whole person, especially important to counter the effects of isolation during the current health crisis.”
Her team helped us address some of the common questions and made recommendations to seniors for exercise:
Make exercise the foundation of your program of total senior health care.
Besides the obvious weight control benefit, anyone over 65 should exercise to reduce the impact of illness and chronic disease and to enhance mobility, flexibility and balance, benefit mental health, improve sleep, boostmood and self-confidence, and increase brain stimulation.
There’s no substitute for exercise.
If you’re over 65, you should be physically active every day. Do activities that improve your strength, balance, and flexibility twice a week. Participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. Reduce time spent lying down or sitting and break it up by participating in activity. If you have a history of falling, participate in exercises to improve strength, balance, and flexibility. You’ll be stronger and feel more confident on your feet.
Don’t try to lose weight by not eating instead of exercising.
Weight control reduces the effects of diabetes and the risk of heart disease. But combining exercise with a healthy diet is a more effective than depending on calorie restriction alone. Research suggests that although restricting calories or restricting the number of times that you eat could help you lose weight, there are risks. Not eating could impact your hydration levels and affect how you respond to medications, which could be dangerous. Exercise can also increase metabolism, helping to reverse the effects of certain diseases. Exercise lowers blood pressure and reduces high “bad cholesterol,” which can prevent a heart attack. Simply not eating may not give you these benefits.
Build muscle mass, improve your balance and prevent falls.
Repetitive motion using weights or external resistance from body weight, machines, free weights or elastic bands helps prevent loss of bone mass, builds muscle mass, improves balance, and prevents falls. Carrying heavy shopping bags, yoga, lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises such as push ups or pull ups – all good.
Exercise to aid mental health and reduce cognitive decay in aging and psychiatric disorders.
During exercise, the heart and lungs work overtime, the body drives more oxygen and blood to the brain, improving cerebral blood flow and the growth of blood vessels. Higher levels of blood and oxygen in the brain improve cognition, decision-making and reasoning. Research shows that exercise activates the hippocampus, the area of the brain that contributes to memory and learning.
If you need an exercise companion, here’s what to do under quarantine.
Having a supportive companion may encourage you to take care of yourself and motivate you to participate in exercise. It’s also good to have someone else’s eye on your mental and physical health and progress. During quarantine, partner up with one other person and continue your exercise program in the hallway, maintaining social distancing. You can also participate in exercise class with the Assisted Living associates to stay active throughout the day. Exercise is defined as a planned time for movement, so if you plan out how many times you’ll walk to the mailbox or to the library – that counts as exercise. Counting steps is a great motivator and easy with a step-counting app for the smartphone or an inexpensive digital pedometer available online.
Equipment is not needed to show improvements with exercise.
You do not need machines, weights or other equipment for the following exercises: walking, fitness classes with friends, water aerobics, yoga and body weight exercises. Exercise in your apartment by getting up to make food, moving around the room, walking at a slow, moderate or brisk pace and dancing. (Go ahead and dance by yourself during social distancing – nobody’s watching!)
You may reduce some medications after a program of exercise.
Lifestyle plays an important role in treating your high blood pressure. Being overweight can disrupt breathing during sleep, which increases your blood pressure. Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products and decreasing saturated fat and cholesterol to lower your blood pressure.
More physical activity can improve diabetes, but it may be tough to lose enough weight to go into remission and decrease medication with workouts alone. When combined with changes to your eating, though, exercise helps. A modest, lower-calorie diet plus a big step-up in burning calories could put you on the path to remission.
A study that had people aim for 10,000 steps a day and at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise a week – along with cutting 500 to 750 calories a day and following a specific insulin and medication routine – saw more than half of them reach near-normal blood sugar without medication. Some were able to keep those levels long-term, too.
Exercises especially good for seniors.
Any type of cardiovascular conditioning such as walking, cycling, and swimming are important. These exercises increase energy and endurance by increasing cardiovascular capacity. Cardiovascular exercises also decrease the risk of cancer, diabetes and depression. Resistive exercises help to maintain and build strength, an important component of balance. Balance exercises also help prevent falls. Use exercise as preventive medicine for high blood pressure, diabetes and cognitive functions.
Exercises for seniors to avoid.
Seniors should avoid deadlifts, long runs, leg presses, crunches, stair climbs and squats. There’s no single exercise plan that’s best for osteoporosis. The routine you choose should be unique to you and based on your fracture risk, muscle strength, range of motion, level of physical activity, fitness, gait and balance. Depending on a medical condition, say, a recent hip replacement or lumbar stenosis, there could be additional exercises to avoid.
Have your doctor monitor your vital signs with regular checkups.
Undertake your exercise program with the supervision of your primary care physician. Regular visits will keep a record of your progress, as well as detect any problems such as muscle strain or stress on your heart or nervous system. Watching your own progress along with your doctor will be great encouragement to continue your exercise.
Ask the physical therapist or the associates at your residence or for recommendations and help with exercise. Remember to protect yourself from infection and observe social distancing protocols.
Start slow, have fun!