We love getting active here at Pure Homecare, so it’s perhaps no surprise that we really enjoyed watching the Olympics. In fact we’ve rather been missing our daily dose of amazing human endeavour, so we can’t wait until the Paralympics to see yet more exciting sporting excellence.
We also recently read about Sister Madonna Buder, or the “Iron Nun”. Sister Madonna is a multiple world record holding triathlete who has run more than 340 triathlons - races that involve consecutive swimming, cycling and running events - and 45 Ironmans - events that include a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. A pretty amazing feat by all standards - but particularly when you consider that Sister Madonna is 85 years old and only began competing when she was 52!
Although many of us will never achieve such great heights of sporting prowess demonstrated by the Olympians, Paralympians and Sister Madonna, we can all be inspired by them to get a little more active. The benefits of doing so are numerous and well researched, with strong evidence demonstrating that active people are at a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, some cancers and dementia.
However, many adults over 65 spend over ten hours a day sitting or lying down, and this sedentary lifestyle heightens the risk of falls, obesity, heart disease and early death. Keeping moving can combat these risks and reduce pain, mental illness, isolation and lack of independence.
The importance of physical activity, therefore, cannot be underestimated. The recommended amount needed to make a difference is around 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, doing something that increases heart rate and quickens breathing. This could be walking fast, water aerobics or riding a bike.
An ideal exercise plan includes aerobic and endurance exercises, stretching and flexibility exercises and strength and resistance training. This might sound a little intimidating, but many of these activities can be inexpensive and enjoyable. Equally, with the right advice, it can also be simple to tailor a programme to meet your own personal needs. So if walking and cycling are too impactful for you, then swimming is a great alternative aerobic exercise, as you still get the benefits of increasing your heart rate, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissues, but without the physical impact.
Yoga and pilates are a great way to improve and maintain flexibility of muscles - in particular the core muscles, which are the foundation of all movement and strength. By strengthening these muscles, people can improve posture and reduce muscular pain across the entire body. And thankfully, yoga and pilates aren’t just about tying yourself up into complex knots! As these practices are compiled of hundreds of types of stretches, the intensity can be easily adapted to suit your needs.
When we talk of resistance training, you might think of complex machines in the gym or heavy weights. But did you know that you can simply use furniture or the walls and floor to help you to do effective resistance exercises? Resistance training is a very important addition to a physical activity programme as it prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance, which is crucial for helping to avoid falls and broken bones.
Is exercising safe?
The most simple answer is yes - almost all people can benefit from additional physical activity. People are often concerned that they may be putting themselves at risk of injury, but research shows that the benefits gained from increased physical activity far outweigh the risks. In fact, many medical conditions are improved by exercise. Everything from immune function, cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular function, bone density, gastrointestinal function, mental health, chronic conditions and cancer have been shown to be improved as a result of regular moderate physical activity.
But what should you do if you’re unwell or frail? The most important thing is to not dismiss the idea of exercise altogether. Instead, be careful in your approach and seek proper instruction and guidance about what will be right and safe for you.
The importance of mental exercise
Of course, it’s not just the physical body that we need to take care of as we get older. Age related changes to the brain can hinder function. However, older brains can function as effectively as younger brains if they are given the opportunity.
Again, physical activity is an important factor in helping to improve and maintain healthy brain function as it increases oxygen to the brain and can improve reaction, memory and reasoning abilities. Other crucial factors are a healthy and balanced diet and keeping well hydrated.
However, one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy is by using it. Research shows that doing mental exercises can improve memory loss by up to 30-50%. And one of the most effective ways of partaking in mental exercise is by engaging in meaningful conversation. It’s been shown that lack of social interaction amongst older generations can have a hugely negative effect on mental wellbeing and function. Conversation with other people stimulates the mind and spirit in that it engages people and encourages positive feelings of self esteem.
But you can keep mentally active during periods where you are by yourself, too. Reading books, newspapers or magazines is an important way to keep your brain active. And television - typically a passive endeavour - can be transformed into an active pursuit if you watch quiz shows and play along. Other options are games and puzzles, which are perfect opportunities for cognitive stimulation. Playing ‘thinking games’ such as Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit and doing crosswords challenge the intellect and memory.
In addition, taking up a new hobby or craft, taking a course in an interesting subject or even learning a new language is a great way to stimulate the brain cells. If it means joining a club or attending a class, then this is a brilliant opportunity to interact with other people, many of whom will share similar interests and therefore make for engaging conversation. In addition, some activities can help to maintain fine motor skills and coordination which is an important consideration as we age.