As the only in-home care provider dedicated to hiring senior caregivers, we are especially concerned with the health and happiness of both our caregivers and care receivers. The impact our like-minded caregivers have on their senior companions is immeasurable. And vice-versa. Both are encouraged to actively work toward a better life. Both are bonding over a valued friendship. Both are facing life’s new obstacles that come with aging and have something to learn from their companion because of it. We work with seniors of all ages, in all stages of physical health. Every single one of us could be doing more to ensure a stronger, happier tomorrow. And it’s never too late to start making healthy life changes.
Our caregivers are there any day of the week, any hour of the day, including overnight for all of life’s ups and downs. There’ll be laughter and the joy of companionship, but also compassion when challenges present themselves. Challenges like lack of energy or difficulty with mobility or balance can seem like a barrier to little things like reaching something in a tall cabinet, or the bigger picture like overall physical fitness. But just like it can feel like you’re facing new little challenges each day, there are small ways to combat fitness-related changes that add up to a healthier future.
Research from Duke University shows that fitness-related changes, relating to muscle strength, balance, coordination and flexibility, might begin as early as your 50s. Most people show great concern over saving for retirement, but few recognize the investment that needs to be made into physical health at the same time. The sooner you start to prioritize physical health, the better. But, that doesn’t mean just because you didn’t start 1 month ago or 1 year ago you can’t start today. Chief Science Officer at the American Council on Exercise, Cedric X. Bryant says “You get the greatest returns on your investment the earlier you start…But the beauty is: It’s never too late to start. All these systems respond to the right dose of stress in the form of physical activity and exercise.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, more than 80% of Americans don’t exercise as much as they should. Among those ages 65-74, two-thirds are not physically active. Regular interactions with a kind, friendly caregiver can help lift a senior’s spirits and keep them mentally active and engaged. But there are small ways seniors can encourage each other to be physically active as well.
First Step. Set the right goals. Smaller, achievable goals will motivate you to keep going more than one unattainable long-term goal. So stop telling yourself you want to fit into jeans from a different decade or see a certain number on the scale. Start week by week and make your goal to set aside a consistent time to exercise. Our caregivers can assist in other aspects of maintaining a schedule, such as provide medication reminders or assist with forgetfulness or lack of focus that becomes more pronounced with Memory, Dementia or Alzheimer’s Care.
When you think about exercising, you may associate it with running a marathon or lifting big, hulking weights. However, there are lots of ways to stay active that contribute to meeting your goals. A nature walk, dance class, or volunteering to walk dogs can all be low-impact ways to get healthy. Finding the right exercise for your needs, one that you genuinely enjoy, will make it easier to adjust to a lifestyle change that will suit you for the long term. In the same sense, finding the right caregiver for your needs will feel a lot more like getting a little help from your friends®. Our caregivers are compassionate fellow seniors who are carefully matched to the specific needs, personality or preferences of a senior that’s looking for a helping hand.
There are things that can be done to improve physical health at every level of fitness. For lighter strain on your body, AARP suggests picking a cardiovascular activity you can do with friends and continuing to work on balance “by alternately standing on one leg then the other with one hand on a counter to steady yourself and the other by your side. Or try standing with one foot behind the other, with the heel of the front foot against the toes of the back foot (maintain your balance for 10 seconds then switch placement of the feet).” If you have the energy, practicing yoga, pilates, or tai chi can have plentiful health benefits in addition to helping your balance. Our caregivers can make a home safer by providing light housekeeping and light handyman services, but improving balance is one of the best things that a senior can do for their own wellbeing. “You can work on protecting your balance by trying to stand on one foot for up to 60 seconds with your eyes open, sitting in a chair and lifting one foot from the floor with your eyes closed, or continuously going from a seated to a standing position without using your hands” (AARP). A lot of simple exercises like this can be done easily from home, and can even have added benefits by having a friend join in.
The easiest way to be held accountable and make exercising fun at the same time is to pick an activity you can do with friends. Establishing a consistent routine is easier when someone else is holding you to it, but you’ll also get to spend quality time with loved ones that is actively improving your lives. There is comfort in routine. Sometimes routine is even tied to tradition, which holds even deeper importance to many. One of the biggest benefits of receiving care in-home as opposed to an assisted living facility is that you get to maintain the comforts of home. You’re waking up in the same bed you have for years, and get the independence of choosing what you’re going to accomplish each day. Our caregivers understand that desire for independence. They also get to maintain the routines they’d like to by earning extra income on a flexible schedule while positively impacting a fellow senior’s life.
What is going to work within your routine? Aerobic exercises are always a good place to start. Walking at a brisk pace, jogging, riding a bike, dancing, and more can be done just about anywhere at any time. If you’re getting in an aerobic exercise several times a week at a moderate intensity you’re on the right track. How do you know whether you’re at a moderate intensity? Bryant says being able to talk, but not sing, while you’re working out is the sweet spot. “Losses in cardiovascular fitness occur more rapidly than losses in muscle strength,” notes Fabio Comana, a faculty instructor at the National Academy of Sports Medicine. This is why it’s particularly important to spend time working on cardiovascular fitness as a senior.
But when is the best time to work aerobic exercise into your day? According to AARP, scientists have determined that we have a finite amount of daily willpower that is drained by decisions and activities throughout the day. Plan on knocking that daily workout out of the park in the morning, before your willpower is depleted, and you’ll be much more likely to stay on track daily. Health Psychology also published a study that found it’s easier to develop healthy habits in the morning because your cortisol levels are higher. Cortisol is a hormone that gives an energy boost.
With the help of a caregiver, adding something new to your routine doesn’t have to be a difficult adjustment. In order to make sure you’ll be able to easily and seamlessly add this lifestyle change into your regular daily routine while aging in place, prioritize convenience. Why make anything harder than it has to be? When you’ve already prepared and have your workout clothes set aside the night before, it’ll make it that much easier to get up and go. If you already have a back-up plan, for example if it’s raining and you know instead of going for a walk you can do some yoga indoors, you’ll find it harder to make excuses to get out of being active.
Staying active should be a priority for all seniors. It’s possible to work on this aspect of physical fitness at any stage of life, no matter your physical abilities. Just take it one step at a time with the help of a friend. We take our time getting to know our caregivers through a careful interviewing process, background check, and personality evaluation. We are able to match seniors with fellow senior caregivers who can provide the care they need, but also with the friendship they deserve. Aging doesn’t have to be faced alone. Seniors can help each other age more gracefully, happily, and productively. Seniors Helping Seniors® in-home care is there to make this a reality for seniors everywhere.