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April 4, 2013

Getting Older People to Adopt Exercise

It was the picture with this article that caught my attention and cracked me up. Not only is it the angle, where these people are all legs, but it's the fact that they look exhausted - I feel this way at the end of my work day.

I spend the majority of my work day coaxing older people to exercise. It's not easy. Often, we are working with people who are ill, in pain, unmotivated, or pushing against cultural biases about physical activity. Many people believe that if they feel weak and tired that if you exercise before you walk, you will not have the energy or stamina for walking - this is actually not true. Many people believe that exercise means exercising to exhaustion.

With those beliefs, no wonder so many avoid it. They associate it with pain, exhaustion, inconvenience, sweat, and a host of other things to be avoided. In reality, exercise is anything you do to keep your body moving, and this is the point I try to get across to my patients.

Once we have blasted through the belief system that exercise is difficult to accomplish, it is necessary to establish activity as a habit. That requires a cue, followed by an action, which should result in some sort of reward. When I say reward, I do not mean a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, I mean a sense of accomplishment, and X on a calendar, or the body's natural endorphins. The cue can be a pair of tennis shoes by the door, or exercise pants on the dresser, or that calendar with Xs marking the days you worked out. The action, of course, is the exercise.

Next is working that new habit into a lifestyle change that is sustainable. When I talk to my mother about exercise, she considers a walk around the supermarket with a grocery cart a work out. *sigh* Okay, she is right, that is activity; it's not sustained activity that builds endurance, but it is something. She been talking about moving her computer downstairs into a spare bedroom - but I've continued to discourage that, because the stairs are a great form of exercise, so long as she is safe on them. Housework - that counts. And when you begin to add up all the little things that can be done in a day, it get easier to add in more to increase activity levels.

The good news is that the body is amazing resilient and malleable even into old age. For the elderly, especially, stillness=weakness, decreased quality of life, and ultimately decreased longevity. A body well used will pay back its occupant by remaining strong enough to be active. Staying active reduces social isolation and depression thereby sustains quality of life for the aged.



Posted by linda at April 4, 2013 8:21 AM

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