If today’s 60 is yesterday’s 40 and 70 is 50 and so on, then today’s elder needs to be in shape. If you are a caregiver to an older loved one who may suddenly be bitten by the fitness bug or who finally heeds your advice to get up and out, it will not be like signing up for the cross-country team in high school. As a geriatric care manager, we are every bit as involved in the functional status / fitness of our clients as we are in their medical status. Here are some suggestions for any septuagenarian just getting into the game:
- Talk to your Provider. The conversation about getting more active can easily be part of the annual check-up or any office visit, and your loved one’s provider may have some caveats like avoiding certain types of impact exercise. But also be sure that you are talking to a believer, because there probably are as many out of shape physicians as there are in the population at large. Don’t ask a couch potato how to get into condition.
- Think Small. Your older loved one should have a goal like walking (or running) a 10K, but that is not the distance to start with on day one. Start small. Encourage a walk around the block, or if they already are a walker, start with jogging mixed with their walk. Run a block, walk two, or some other combination that does not defeat your new athlete right out of the blocks.
- Remember to Enjoy. If you are a caregiver to your aspiring elder, consider part of your job as coach to be making exercise fun. Exercising with a partner is a positive step toward fun, and someone else depending on their being there at the appointed time is extra motivation for your elder. Where there are no smiles, there also likely will be fewer miles.
- Change the Game. Encourage your elder to try new exercises or games. If jogging is their focus, both their minds and their bodies will benefit from a day with laps in the pool or a ride on a bike. To build up better balance, encourage yoga or Pilates or maybe even weight training under the supervision of a trainer. Cross-training is something all athletes do to tone their bodies.
- Be Real. On the one hand, don’t let your loved one off with the excuse that they don’t have the time. The national guidelines recommend about 30 minutes a day to keep the body working well, and everyone can fit 30 minutes into their day. On the other hand, don’t let your loved one burn out. If they push too hard, they can injure themselves, and if they do too much of the same thing, they also can cause a repetitive stress injury.
Now that we have reviewed what a caregiver can do to support their older loved one’s fitness, there is no excuse for the caregiver either. I appreciate the time constraints a lot of caregivers face, but remember #5 above; you only need to devote 30 minutes a day. And I could add that you don’t have to break a sweat to get the benefits from exercise like long walks.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.