Seniors Can Improve Quality of Life by Exercising
By Oliver L. Formato, Director of Senior Products, Humana of Colorado, East Denver LIVING WELL Magazine
You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from exercise.
Even modest exercise can result in improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and brain function. According to the American Heart Association, people who have a low fitness level are much more likely to die early than people who have achieved even a moderate level of fitness. Nevertheless, according to a study published in American Family Physician, up to 75% of older Americans aren’t getting enough exercise.
“Some seniors who have been inactive for too long are afraid to start exercise programs,” says Dr. Philip Painter, chief medical officer of Humana’s Medicare health services organization. “In most cases, there’s nothing to fear. In fact, they ought to be afraid if they don’t start exercising.
“Exercise can be beneficial even for those with chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis,” he adds. “It’s truly never too late to start an exercise program.”
For some seniors, moderate exercise may be the key to remaining independent. It can also serve as a mood booster.
So exercise is obviously important. But how does a senior get started? As the old adage goes, the longest journey begins with a single step.
Seniors should start slowly. Those with health concerns should first check with their doctor. Upon receiving clearance, they should begin to incorporate exercise into their daily routine. Some examples include gardening, playing with grandchildren, walking, dancing and even housework.
Seniors should gradually increase the amount of exercise they receive with the goal of reaching 30 minutes of exercise a day.
The exercises mentioned here so far are primarily endurance exercises. Other types of exercises can build strength (light weight lifting), improve balance (standing on one leg or walking heel-to-toe) or increase flexibility (yoga, stretching). Balance and flexibility are particularly important in avoiding falls.
Some of these exercises can be done in a chair or while lying down.
A fitness advisor can provide seniors with recommendations for an exercise regime. That may sound expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Medicare Advantage plans like those administered by Humana may offer an advisor and a gym membership at no cost as part of the plan. Humana, for example, offers different fitness programs through different vendors in different geographies, including at-home programs.
Keep in mind that it could take months to go from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one. Additionally, with any kind of exercise, seniors should always keep safety in mind, according to the American Medical Association. This includes wearing comfortable shoes, using appropriate safety gear, avoiding extreme cold or heat, drinking plenty of fluids and breathing deeply.
In addition to greater strength, stamina and flexibility, seniors might find another reason to exercise. They could save money on their health care expenses. In a study by SilverSneakers®, participants who visited a fitness center at least twice a week for two years incurred at least $1,252 less in health care costs in the second year than those who visited less than once per week.
Finally, seniors should exercise their brains along with their bodies. Brainteasers like crossword puzzles help seniors keep their minds sharp, as can brain games, such as those on the Humana Games for Health Web site at www.humanagames.com. The games are free to play.
“You have so many choices about what you do,” Dr. Painter concludes. “Just stay active.”
Oliver L. Formato is a director with Humana’s Medicare Advantage products in Colorado. For more information or to reach Formato call 303-773-0300.