Why staying active is so important in your senior years

This article is sponsored by Aveo.

WHAT is it that holds you back from exercising each day?

Experienced aged care physiotherapist and team leader of The Physio Co, Martin Hall said pain quite often creates barriers for seniors who would like to exercise but have certain health conditions that make it challenging.

“A lot of seniors have been working hard their whole life or playing sport when they were younger and may have developed osteoarthritic joints,” Mr Hall said.

“They may have gone a long period of time without doing any exercise and they’ve lived with the pain and presumed the pain will still be there or be worse if they exercise.”

Mr Hall explains that this theory is sometimes not the case at all.

“There’s a lot of evidence out there to show that exercise can actually help improve and reduce pain especially around osteoarthritic knees and osteoarthritic hips and backs."

Mr Hall also stresses the importance of seeing the right people, like an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist, who understand the physiologies of the body, diseases and pain who can prescribe the right exercises.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

When considering whether or not to exercise, there’s plenty of excuses we make to avoid being active. Sometimes those excuses are justified, especially if it’s related to physical pain but more often than not it’s a battle of the mind.

Mr Hall recognises a pattern with elderly people and their mental health that can create barriers for them wanting to be involved in social activities.

Feeling anxious about exercise or lacking confidence is quite common, particularly as we get older.

"I find a lot of the reasons people don't exercise is related to confidence and pain – that they're scared it could be bad for them."

Thoughts can cloud your mind, like what if I hurt myself or what if everyone's fitter than me? 

Thereafter, retreating to your room and avoiding exercise altogether.

I personally think rest and immobility is quite bad for us as human beings no matter what our age is.

Mr Martin Hall

"We need to keep moving and there are ways in which we can do that even if we've got pain," Mr Hall said.

"Generally a sedentary lifestyle will make people's pain worse. They get weaker, stiffer and it creates a vicious circle."

"On the grand scale, being active and moving is far more beneficial than being sedentary and not doing anything at all."  

Taking the first step is always the hardest so Mr Hall recommends group exercise as a means to motivate and empower one another.

"If people join group exercise classes it makes it far more enjoyable and one of the benefits of group exercise is the social interaction."

Mr Hall said Aveo are big believers in making classes fun and enjoyable.

"We tend to ask the residents what they want to do and see if we can provide classes that keep everyone happy - like line dancing, hydrotherapy, tai chi or strengthening classes."  

"So it's always a bit of a social event and we quite often find when people finish their classes they have cups of tea afterwards," he said.

Building your fitness and friendship circle

Mr Hall advocates group exercise as a way of building a regular practice and extending your friendship circle.

"Sports like golf are great for seniors – where there's a skill and a social element to it.

"You can walk anywhere up to 5-6 kilometres on a golf course if you choose to walk and it's a great sport which encompasses so many different aspects of physical fitness,” he said.

Aveo's Newcastle retirement village is located within the Shortland Waters Golf Course itself, this master-planned community offers an unmatched environment with features and facilities perfect for retirees seeking an active and social lifestyle.

Aveo's Newcastle retirement village is located within the Shortland Waters Golf Course itself, this master-planned community offers an unmatched environment with features and facilities perfect for retirees seeking an active and social lifestyle.

Mr Hall said we should be encouraging elderly people to participate in forms of exercise that have multiple physical and mental health benefits.

Group exercise environments help to strengthen our relationships and in turn encourage people to "not let the team down".

"If one person is progressing it encourages others to do so and there's evidence that shows there are significant mental benefits," Mr Hall said.

Boosting the body & the mind simultaneously 

Mr Hall said there's interesting research to show that strength training in the elderly population can improve cognitive functions and help people suffering from mild or moderate cognitive decline (early signs of dementia).  

"It's fascinating – the theory of how strengthening your body can simultaneously help to improve your brain function," Mr Hall explains.

He suggests preventative measures for elderly people like basic aerobic exercise; walking at a brisk pace, swimming, easy cycling and any other sorts of cardio exercise that are great from a respiratory perspective.

Mr Hall recently conducted an educational seminar about balance and falls for a number of Aveo retirement villages with Alzheimer's Australia.  

"I think the elderly population are becoming more aware of dementia and Alzheimer's today so there's definitely greater involvement on their behalf to take on preventative measures," he said. 

This article is sponsored by Aveo.