Whether you are helping to care for your elderly parents at home or want to be involved in their care at an assisted living facility, you are probably looking for ways to keep them strong emotionally and physically.
The benefits of physical exercise can be seen at any age, but as we get older our bodies start to slow down. As we age, exercise is more important than ever for preventing illness and maintaining health.
According to a Surgeon General’s Report, inactive adults are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as active adults. A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that staying physically fit helps prevent congestive heart failure, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Regular low-impact exercise such as walking, bicycling or gardening for only 20 to 30 minutes a day can help keep circulation flowing and bones healthy.
Encourage your parent to take group classes. Consider scheduling a regular time to exercise together. You may not be able to hike together like you used to, but a stroll around a nearby park or even a lap around the local mall can be beneficial.
A long-term study by the University of Pittsburgh found that adults in their 70s and 80s who walk briskly at least 20 minutes a day can prevent a loss of mobility as they age.
An increasing body of research shows that the “use it or lose it” maxim applies to our brains as well as our bodies.
Brain researchers have found that the key to staying mentally sharp is in becoming a lifelong learner. By tackling new projects or finding new ways of doing things through our lives, we engage different parts of the brain and to form new neural connections. Here are a few ideas for you:
- Taking up a new hobby or skill
- Studying a foreign language
- Reading books and magazines
- Working crosswords or word games
- Learning a new skill
Has your parent always wanted to learn a skill but never had the time? Maybe an art class or a self-defense class? Look for offerings in your community. Maybe you could even sign up together.
In addition to the mental benefits, your parent will gain important social benefits from taking a class. Many of us are more susceptible to depression as we age, and a great way to fight depression is though social interaction.
Encourage your parent to sign up for social opportunities through your retirement facility or local senior center; also check out programs offered at community colleges, adult education centers and libraries. This way your parent can interact with people of all ages.
In addition, help your parent look for volunteer opportunities. Depending on your parent’s skills and mobility, here are a few options to consider:
- Soup kitchens
- Animal shelters
- Centers for developmental disabilities
- Community theaters
By volunteering, your parent will feel connected to the community. This feeling of value brings mental and physical benefits. Studies show that volunteering can even help people feel happier.
Researchers from the London School of Economics studied the relationship between volunteering and happiness in a large group of American adults. When compared with people who never volunteered, the study participants who volunteered every two to four weeks were 12 percent more likely to say they were very happy. Those who volunteered every week were 16 percent more likely to be very happy.
Be prepared for some initial resistance as you endeavor to get your parents involved in these various activities.
Discuss these concerns and how you can address them together, while explaining the benefits of keeping active. Brainstorm some more ideas in order to find a compromise if your parent does not want to give it a try.
Keep at it. Helping your parents stay active, alert and engaged in life is one of the best gifts you can give them.