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The Benefits of Movement for Seniors

November 13, 2012

Guest Post By: Dr. Kevin O’Neil,  Brookdale Senior Living

Overview:

We often neglect the cheapest and easiest ways to improve health –movement and exercise. Whether the reason is a common misconception about risks or a general lack of motivation, it’s never too late to start making positive change. Dr. Kevin O’Neil is the Medical Director for Brookdale Senior Living, the largest provider of senior living residences in the United States. Having taught and practiced geriatric medicine for over 27 years, Dr. O’Neil encourages seniors to move more daily and suggests fun activities to help them lead a healthier, longer life.

The Benefits of Movement

One of the most important things you can do for yourself to maintain and/or improve your health is simply daily movement. Not only can movement cure chronic conditions, but research also suggests that it can slow or even reverse the aging process! Think of movement as medicine –free medicine with almost zero side effects that offers the following benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Controls blood sugar
  • Helps control weight
  • Good for the heart
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Relieves pain
  • Improves sex
  • Reduces falls
  • Improves memory
  • Enhances your immune system
  • Improves bone strength
  • Helps improve sleep
  • Reduces stress
  • Relieves constipation
  • Good for most medical conditions
  • Slows the aging process
  • Makes you look better

Common Misconceptions

With all the evidence to support the benefits of daily movement, why don’t more people do it?

  • Pain – While it may seem counterintuitive, exercise is a good way to treat many painful conditions. Arthritis is a good example. The pain of arthritis is actually made worse by not moving. Pain in the joint may cause inactivity which leads to stiffness, which leads to increased pain, which leads to inactivity and so on. This cycle is broken through gentle exercise that increases circulation and strengthens the muscles surrounding an arthritic joint.
  • Fear of making a condition worse – In the past, it was a commonly held belief that people with certain conditions should not exercise. However, research has now confirmed the benefits of daily activity for most common medical conditions. It is important to check with your health care provider, and in some cases have supervised exercise sessions. But rarely is it better to be inactive.
  • Fatigue – Fatigue is another problem that is overcome by moving. In most cases it is the result of being out of shape. Build in frequent rest periods and start slowly. Over time you will begin to feel more energetic.
  • No time – You can break the 30 minute recommendation into 10 minute increments throughout the day if necessary. Increments smaller than 10 minutes will not be as beneficial.
  • Shortness of breath – Check with your health care provider if you have shortness of breath. While it can be a symptom of heart or lung problems, in many cases shortness of breath with activity is related to being de-conditioned. Take your time and work up slowly, adding in frequent rest periods.

Making Positive Change

Finding the energy to get moving can be the biggest battle. It may take the encouragement of a friend, the advice of a health care provider or the prospect of improving a condition with which you are dealing. But keep in mind that if you believe you can achieve something that has positive results, then you are more likely to do it. Getting encouragement from someone who you trust will help your motivation.
Making Movement Fun!

While going to the gym or fitness center is certainly one way to achieve your 30 minutes per day of movement, there are many other less “conventional” ways to meet the guidelines.

  • Wii Fit or Wii Sports games – These interactive video games simulate bowling, tennis, golf and other sports in which you actually perform the movements of the sport with a hand held controller. Some senior living communities are starting virtual bowling leagues. The games give a surprisingly real sense of actually being there and can help you work up a sweat.
  • Move to the Music – Research suggests that ballroom dancing is one of the best leisure activities to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Combining music with activity can bring a new energy and interest to the most common movements. The right music almost demands that you move, and activity can take on a life of its own. Try playing some music with a good beat as you do chores at home; and put some dance moves in to your stride as you go about your daily routine.

Other fun ways to get moving:

  • Gardening
  • Join a walking group
  • Yoga
  • Pool aerobics or swimming
  • Find an exercise class
  • Walk around your chair during every TV commercial
  • Take a longer route to the dining room

It does not matter how old you are or what shape you are in now –you can benefit from simply increasing your level of activity. Research shows that your cells will age more slowly when you are active and that even those who are very frail can gain strength from exercise.
In the end, you should take the advice of the Nike folks and “Just do it.” Do whatever it takes to get started and have fun moving! You won’t be sorry.

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