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Active Aging: Movement Is Your Best Medicine

Active Aging : Movement Is Your Best Medicine

Posted on September 6, 2014 by Colleen McCutchan

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“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states.”

Having worked for 32 years as a physical education teacher for people with disabilities, I connect with this statement by health coach Carol Welch. During my career I’ve taught individuals with a variety of special physical, emotional and cognitive needs, and I’ve witnessed firsthand how exercise improves not only their health and well-being but also their cognitive and behavioral skills.

The same holds true for older adults. Physical activity and exercise can boost their cardiovascular function, muscle strength and motor skills while promoting social engagement.

The first challenge, however, is overcoming common fears and negative feelings some associate with exercise. Many older adults haven’t been physically active in years and they are resistant to it now. Family and friends may have discouraged them from engaging in too much activity due to certain health conditions or perceived risks. Or, they’re simply out of practice and insecure about their abilities.

But with a little guidance and encouragement, older adults can overcome these barriers and develop the confidence they need to feel more comfortable exercising. I suggest instructors start by setting small goals, taking into consideration each individual’s needs and limitations. Once each small goal is met, confidence and a feeling of mastery grow.

Creating enjoyable events is key to attracting a wider range of older adults. Think outside the box! Most recreational games can be adapted to anyone, regardless of ability. Seated basketball, volleyball and hockey are ideal since they improve eye-hand coordination while also raising heart rate and improving overall fitness.

Bocce ball, tee-ball and bowling also improve hand-eye coordination as well as balance and locomotor movement skills for people with brain and spinal cord injury, stroke and other neurological disorders.

Team-building games such as parachute and toss and catch are fun, healthy ways to encourage older adults to be more socially engaged. Parachute involves a circle of participants who hold the edges of a parachute tightly and move their arms up and down to create waves. Toss and catch uses large, lightweight fitness balls and challenges group members to toss and catch their ball as many times as possible without dropping it. Participants are likely to giggle during this game while strengthening their eye-hand coordination and increasing their heart rate.

Perhaps the most important aspect of getting older adults to be more physically active is interpersonal connection. Build rapport and talk about ways to best help each individual get involved. Demonstrate how important their success is to you by exercising or playing games with them. You’ll be surprised how far this kind of support can go toward motivating more movement.

– Colleen A. McCutchan, Senior Engage Life Director, Atria Las Posas

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