Exercising can improve mental and physical wellbeing in seniors

Posted on 17 June 2011

Older people choosing a care home may envisage spending their time enjoying some well-deserved relaxation. While taking it easy is beneficial to some extent, an abundance of recent research has indicated that enjoying some gentle exercise is not only advantageous physically, helping with age-related conditions such as arthritis, stroke and Parkinson's, but it is great for the mind too.

Alison Wyndham, physiotherapist and founder of the Wyndham Centres, indicated that exercise cannot be overstated as a social activity. She notes that there is a lot of "sit in your chair and exercise with us" type of communal keeping fit, particularly for those paying for care in a nursing home. This helps older people to feel part of a community and alleviate loneliness - a common and serious problem among seniors.

Ms Wyndham continues that exercise is vital for older people with arthritis, as it helps to keep the joints moving and strengthen the muscles. She cites walking as "probably the best exercise of all", suggesting that those with shoulder problems introduce gentle neck and shoulder stretches to their routine.

Indeed, there is much evidence that walking is a popular pastime among older people, with Emma Soames, editor-at-large for Saga Magazine, claiming that while swimming and cycling are well-liked among this generation, walking is "the big winner". This is because there is minimal risk of injury and brisk walking can elevate the heart rate to combat all sorts of cardiovascular illnesses.

Women over the age of 60 were seen to benefit significantly from a brisk walk lasting 30 to 50 minutes, three or four times per week, in a study conducted at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Doing so increased the blood flow to the brain by as much as 15 per cent, thereby improving general brain health and possibly even lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Furthermore, exercise has been shown to help protect against serious health-related illnesses such as strokes, according to a study published in the journal Neurology. The research, carried out on a group of 64 year olds, discovered that those who exercised more, partaking in activities such as swimming, jogging or playing squash, had a 40 per cent lower risk of experiencing a 'silent stroke' - a form of the condition that goes unnoticed. 

Exercise is not just a preventative measure however, as there is plenty of evidence showing that it can assist recovery from several conditions, improving quality of life for many people.

Ancient Chinese meditative exercise Tai Chi was seen to improve quality of life as well as mood in people with chronic heart failure, according to research published in journal the Archives of Internal Medicine. Although walking and Tai Chi were both seen to offer similar physical health benefits in those with the condition, patients who opted for the alternative exercise also experienced a significant improvement in mood.

Another unorthodox fitness activity proven to enhance the health of people with age-related conditions is yoga, according to an Indiana University team of researchers. The balance and endurance skills of older stroke patients were seen to dramatically improve, with researchers deeming these results "exciting". Through taking part in the study many participants significantly reduced their risk of falling, which is a major health hazard among older people.

Individuals with Parkinson's can also improve their quality of life through exercising, according to a study presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. Walking on a treadmill at a comfortable speed and for a longer duration was identified as the most effective exercise to improve mobility in those with Parkinson's disease.

The good news is that today's older people are more health conscious than ever before, according to research conducted by Omega 3 supplement company Efamol. More than half of the over-50s admitted that they worry about their health more than any one single issue, prioritising it over money and family concerns.

Posted by Nigel Murphy



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