Inactive lifestyles and periods of prolonged sitting have been named as significant contributors to climbing rates of obesity and chronic illness in America, and a new study shows that aging adults are adopting sedentary trends at an alarming rate.
The average older women spends nearly two-thirds of the time she’s awake—nearly ten hours—sitting, according to an investigation conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health. For the study, more than 7,000 women in their 70s were given accelerometers, devices that can tell when an individual is moving or still, to wear as they went about their regular routines.
These most recent findings align with the conclusions of past analyses on how long the average adult spends sitting each day. A 2012 study of lifestyle data from nearly 800,000 adults of all ages indicated that most of us spend anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of our days in a chair or on the couch.
Of course, the life of a caregiver is far from typical. The physical demands of taking care of an elderly loved one—helping them get in and out of bed or a wheelchair, assisting with household chores, or steadying them as they walk—may mean family caregivers are actually more active than their peers.
Their aging loved ones, on the other hand, might be at risk for severe health consequences if they don’t move around enough.
Physical inactivity tops the list of things that can age you. The dangers of leading a sedentary lifestyle have been thoroughly canvassed in recent years. Some of the more startling statistics to arise from research into the topic include:
Watching just one hour of television may decrease an individual’s overall life expectancy by 21.8 minutes, according to a 2008 University of Queensland study.
Even if they exercise regularly, people who spend a significant portion of their day sitting down increase their overall risk of death by about 49 percent, their risk of diabetes by 112 percent and their risk of cardiovascular disease by 147 percent, concluded researchers from the University of Leicester.
Strategies to stay active
For seniors, exercise can also keep some of the physical effects of aging at bay by strengthening muscles and bones, enhancing balance, and easing arthritis pain. The increased blood flow to the brain that occurs as a result of physical activity can also keep a cognitively healthy senior’s brain sharper and may also decrease symptoms of depression. These advantages have been shown to hold true, even for people in their 80s and 90s.
But sticking to a consistent schedule of physical exercise may be an elusive edict for you and your loved one to follow.
Arthritis and other mobility-inhibiting ailments can make moving around painful for a senior; not to mention dangerous, given the ever-present risk of falling. Time is another limiting factor, especially for caregivers—you can’t very well start pounding out squats and pushups in the waiting room of your loved one’s doctor’s office, or while in line to pick up their prescription at the pharmacy. And all of that running around can leave you drained and in need of a better night’s sleep.
Even when you can find the time and energy to get active, it may be hard to convince you loved one to join you. Fear, pain and fatigue can all play a role in contributing to an elder’s reluctance to exercise, so you may need to get creative when searching for ways to incorporate physical fitness into a resistant loved one’s life–your life may depend on it.
Here are a few tips, supplied by veteran caregivers on the AgingCare forum, for keeping yourself and your aging loved one moving:
“Spend at least 15 minutes of the day in the sun and fresh air. Take a walk around the garden or the neighborhood and be sure to interact with other people along the way.”
“Tai chi and waltzing. Mom loves waltzing to the music from the Big Band era.”
“The stationary bike can help keep arthritic knees loose, which also prevents dangerous ‘shuffling’ of feet that can make them trip while walking.”
“Go shopping at your loved one’s favorite store and let use the cart to support themselves, if they need it.”
“Mom works out in the yard, watering and pulling weeds. It is one of the few things in life she enjoys doing anymore. You don’t need to do anything exotic; sometimes the simplest things work best.”
“Buy some workout DVDs—I like Zumba—and invite a friend over to do it with you while you watch your loved one. You may also want to invite them to join in as well.”
What are some of your go-to exercise strategies?
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor