Aging doesn't have to mean giving up the daily activities you love: According to local experts, exercise can be the key for seniors who want to remain independent throughout their golden years.
There is much to be gained from staying fit as we get older—from short- and long-term health to emotional and social well-being, notes Scott Seabaugh, director of local home health-care agency, Home Assist. “Today, we know a lot more about older adults and their need for physical activity and exercise. Benefits for every area of life include improving your ability to do (daily tasks) while maintaining independence, helping maintain and improving your physical strength, balance and mobility, and supporting disease management and prevention.” As an added bonus, fitness stimulates a positive mood and overall sense of well-being, he adds.
But for those who face obstacles leaving their homes, staying fit can be a challenge. That’s why local senior fitness organizations and home health-care agencies are stepping up to help.
Oasis, a nonprofit organization which promotes successful aging through a healthy living, lifelong learning and social engagement, offers exercise classes for every fitness level—for those recovering from illness and injury to those who are able to gradually increase movement.
Classes, recommended for those 50 and older, are held at Oasis’ Clayton and Kirkwood locations, as well as many area senior communities in the event that transportation is a barrier. The organization’s ExerStart sessions are a good jumping-off point for those returning to fitness, says Sarah Lovegreen, Oasis’ national health director. “We train lay facilitators, who are older adults themselves, in leading the classes to improve and maintain everyday function, such as upper and lower body strength, endurance and mobility, so they can continue to thrive living independently.” Attendees also are provided with resistance bands and take-home cards so they can continue to work out at home.
The goal is to help seniors progress into Oasis’ more challenging exercise program, Lovegreen explains. “Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you can’t grow in endurance and strength.” The organization’s hour-long Building Bones class provides a half-hour cardio workout followed by the resistance- and strength-training seniors need to maintain healthy bones. “The movements change often, so we keep it fun and interesting,” she says. And the Better Balance class challenges seniors’ senses. Participants complete activities in different scenarios, while wearing sunglasses through varying terrains, to practice their body’s response. “We try to mimic real-life situations, like a dim movie theater aisle,” Lovegreen explains.
For the more athletic and adventurous, Oasis leads a vibrant hiking and biking group on area trails. “This is for folks who like to be in nature and get exercise,” Lovegreen says. The various group fitness sessions also stimulate seniors socially, she adds. “They meet people who have similar interests.”
Exercise has short- and long-term benefits, Lovegreen notes. “Fitness is important at any age. And as you age, it’s a great tool to stay independent, prevent falls, and keep doing everything you do every day, as well as the activities you enjoy.” Staying fit also is important for minimizing chronic disease, as well as feeling well day-to-day, she adds.
Fitness is one of four critical lifestyle components that local home health-care agency Homewatch Caregivers focuses on with its clients. With the aid of its caregivers, seniors go to fitness centers for workouts ranging from cardio exercise to weight-training and yoga. Cardio improves endurance, weight-training builds strength, and yoga helps with mobility and flexibility, explains Michael Gianino, VP of operations at Homewatch Caregivers. He cites National Institute on Aging studies that show seniors benefit from exercise more than any other age group. “Fitness is most important in the later stages, when people may be less capable.”
For seniors who live at home and may be recovering from illness, Home Assist provides services to help them remain independent. Its team of physical and occupational therapists can establish a unique rehabilitation care plan according to each individual’s needs. The treatment program is based on a physician order, evaluation and examination, Seabaugh says. The programs can include therapeutic exercise, functional training, manual therapy techniques, and adaptive devices and equipment needs. “Our physical and occupational therapists establish anticipated goals, expected outcomes, and predicted level of improvement for each individual,” Seabaugh notes. “Receiving appropriate rehabilitative support can make a significant difference for all individuals, especially seniors.”