Caring for elderly parents: getting them up and moving

Caring for elderly parents can be both rewarding and exhausting; it can range from helping with activities of daily life and dealing with medical conditions to leisure activities and making sure that they stay as physically active as possible. Regular activity has been proven to help both physical mobility and mental health, too, which can reduce the risk of getting depression and dementia. The NHS website estimates that people aged over 65 spend an average of 10 hours a day either seated or lying down completely, putting this age group at an increased risk for, obesity, heart disease and various other causes of early death. Keep reading to discover why staying active is so important for the elderly, how you might be able to encourage your elderly parents to stay mobile, and the best types of activity for those over 65. 

Frequent activity will ensure that your parent is regularly using their bones, joints and muscles, allowing them to retain as much of their former strength as possible, and consequently reducing the likelihood of falls and fractures. If their physical strength is somewhat reduced due to age-related aches and pains, then light activity can help to ease some of this discomfort and slow down deterioration. If you are looking to encourage mobility as part of caring for elderly parents, you might want to consult with both them and their doctor to find out the best forms of physical activity, bearing in mind any existing health conditions. 

Being physically active is also a fantastic way to stay at a healthy weight, therefore reducing the risk of bariatric diseases such as diabetes. As more energy is required during physical exercise, your elderly parent will probably notice an increase in their appetite; this is a good opportunity to make sure that they are eating a healthy and balanced diet, with enough calories to help them lead a more active lifestyle. Physical activity also aids the digestive system, so whilst looking after elderly parents, you may notice that this alleviates any existing conditions; moderate exercise encourages regular bowel movements. 

Finally, regular physical activity is proven to be an effective way of managing high blood pressure and angina, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart disease, which are some of the leading causes of premature deaths in adults over the age of 65. 

With all of these health benefits, it’s crucial to consider exercise as part of caring for elderly parents; enjoy a weekly walk together or inform them of, and encourage them to join classes aimed at their generation. And don’t forget that if you do decide to create a fitness plan for them, it needs to take their current activity levels into account.  

Those over 65, in a reasonably healthy and mobile condition, should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. This includes walking to the town centre to get the weekly shop, cycling to visit family or friends, or even aqua aerobics classes, some of which are specifically designed for older adults. It might be that taking on a few extra gardening responsibilities for the neighbours could help, too; pushing the lawn mower counts towards the 150-minute target. Alongside the moderate activity, strength training twice a week is also highly recommended. While this can be done at a gym with strength equipment, many of the same benefits can be achieved by doing the usual daily tasks; we’d recommend parking further away in the supermarket car park in order to carry the bags to the car or doing some manual labour in the garden – digging soil or shovelling snow can greatly help you build strength.  

The NHS also states that instead of doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise, adults over 65 could opt for 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as going running or playing a game of singles tennis, but combine it with bi-weekly strength training. If you are caring for elderly parents, you might want to help them in coming up with the right plan for them – it may be that they require a combination of both moderate and vigorous exercise each week. If they have a keen interest in technology, you could even consider researching or buying an Apple Watch or other wearable fitness trackers, which encourage users to stand up after long periods of sedentary behaviour and meet certain step goals every hour, day, or week. Either way, whether through an activity planner, the latest piece of technology, or even just a refreshing walk once a week, it’s important to encourage elderly parents to remain active, and to help them achieve it.

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