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How to keep elderly mobile through exercise

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Everyone knows and understands the importance of exercise and physical activity, every day we are bombarded with different types of exercise equipment and DVDs all promising to get us fitter

  • The doctor looks at your elderly parent and says  ‘you need to take more exercise’, but what happens when your parent’s body is feeling just that little bit tired, their medication makes them feel not quite themselves and the gym is not the type of place they want to go to?

 What can your parent do at home to help keep fit?

  • Studies on young, fit and active students have shown that one week in bed results in loss of 1% bone mass and 20% loss in muscle strength, so imagine the repercussions for someone who has already lost muscle strength and bone density
  • If someone is unwell, or recovering from a stay in hospital, then it is easy to stay in bed, but as soon as they are able, try to help them up and move around the room or if you have access to a downstairs toilet then encourage them to get dressed and join the downstairs world
  • Maintaining fitness at home is really in nothing simpler than making sure the body is used.
  • If your parent is fit and able and lives in a house with stairs, then find an excuse to climb them
  • Stair climbing is one of the most important ‘free exercises’ and it is frightening to see how quickly muscle strength is lost when people move into bungalows or residential accommodation
  • A daily walk is not always as attractive as it should be, but a walk to the end of the road not only builds bones, gets the heart pumping but ensures you get your daily dose of vitamin D

Helping your ageing parent to keep their balance 

  • Balance is the one thing people fear losing, but it is quite simple to keep your balance
  • When your parent is standing at the sink washing their hands, they can just take one foot a few fractions of an inch off the floor
  • If they feel unsteady, then they should hold on with one or two fingers and when they are ready, take the hands off and try to balance for a few seconds
  • Remind your parent that they have the sink to hold onto should they feel as if they are going to fall
  • Be sure to check the surrounding area before doing anything in the kitchen, or bathroom, if balancing, or doing any exercise while at the kitchen sink
  • Make sure there are no sharp knives they might cut themselves on (they should not balance on one leg when peeling potatoes!!), slippery kitchen and bathroom floors, furniture, open cupboard doors, bottles and towels seem innocent enough, but can cause trips and slips and can leave nasty bruises if landed on!

Hands and Feet

  • What is of equal importance but so easily forgotten are the hands and feet
  • If mobility is lost in the fingers and toes then dressing and walking is difficult
  • Exercises for the hands and feet are easy to do in front of the TV
  • Find a soft squishy ball or toy and ask your elderly parent to give it regular squeezes, roll it around in their fingertips and flatten it between their palms
  • They can make a fist and spread the fingers out as far as they can go
  • When they have done a few of those, they can give the hands a rest and go down to the toes… pointing and stretching them, one foot at a time (as in ballet), planting their feet flat on the floor and picking up their heels, as if they are wearing high heel shoes
  • Then put the heels down and pick up the toes and lower them down as if they are raising and lowering their foot to use the brake pedal of accelerator

Exercising in a group

  • Imagine your parent has just reached retirement age, or they have just had a heart attack, or been told they have osteoporosis
  • They might be physically fit, but have been diagnosed with early dementia, or MS and you want to take some exercise, but do not know where to start
  • There are several exercise classes across the country which might help your elderly relative enjoy exercise and stay motivated
  • EXTEND exercise classes work every joint and move every bone in the body without making it feel like hard work
  • Ailments, aches and pains are left at the door and once inside the class become a weekly club where the emphasis is on exercising in a fun and social atmosphere
  • The teachers plan their classes according to what functional movements have to be maintained, reaching for the remote control or into a high or low cupboard. Moving the shoulders so the arms can get into clothes and specific strength work for the legs to get into and out of a chair, car and bath.
  • The teachers use therabands and weights
  • They all have knowledge of fall prevention
Important things to remember when your elderly parent exercises

Remember, exercise in the home is free and accessible, but your ageing parent should approach it sensibly:

  • If your parent has osteoarthritis in the fingers, or very stiff or swollen feet, then movement may be painful or difficult, so they should only do what is comfortable
  • Painful knees and hips can make walking and balance difficult.
  • If they have not climbed the stairs in a long time, then getting down the stairs may be harder than climbing them, so make sure someone is with them to help
  • They may have some slight soreness in the legs, knees and arms (the arms as they use them for support) the next day. This is normal and shows that the exercises are working. They should try to do something every day and as the muscles and joints will get used to being used, they will build strength and mobility
  • As with all exercise, they should only do what they feel comfortable doing and they should build them up slowly, with just a few each day until the muscles and joints are used to being used again. If they experience pain then they should stop
  • If in doubt, and for reassurance, talk to the doctor before starting any form of exercise
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EXTEND Exercise was established in 1976 and it’s teachers deliver exercise classes in the community, residential homes and day centres. Their 800 teachers are all CRB checked, they have to attend annual continual professional development day’s, and they are insured with one of the largest sports broker in the UK. While some general, common knowledge, advice has been given here, please remember that all exercise taken in your home is at your own risk, we do not take any responsibility for any accidents or injury incurred while exercising at home.

If you want to find a class that meets your needs, then contact our Head Office: 

You can find us on Facebook and twitter @EXTENDexercise.



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