Aging and exercise often come with a lot of misconceptions. As the founder and creative director of StrongerU Senior Fitness, Emily Johnson is on a mission to innovate and elevate senior fitness globally by empowering recreation, fitness and wellness professionals to deliver high-quality senior fitness classes.
Question: My mom isn’t very mobile anymore and is convinced she’s not able to do any kind of exercise. What types of things can I encourage her to do so she at least gets some kind of movement?
Answer: Congratulations on taking note of your mom’s lack of movement and reaching out for ways to help her get more active! Unfortunately, there’s a pretty common belief that we should slow down as we age, but all the research tells us this is not the way to age successfully. In fact, it’s recommended that older adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous heart- and lung-pumping exercise per week, two days per week of muscular exercise, and engage in activities that require coordination and enhance balance.
Whenever someone has been sedentary for quite some time, my first recommendation is to try to get them walking. Start with five or 10 minutes a few times per week and then increase the walks by five minutes each week, or as strength and cardiovascular capacity allows.
Ultimately, you want to help her get to a total of 150 minutes per week in as many walks as it takes to reach that total. She should also aim for a moderate to vigorous pace. This is about a 5-7 on a scale from 1-10. She should be able to talk but wouldn’t be able to sing.
Keep in mind, “moderate to vigorous” looks different for every person. Your mom might be walking slow, but if she can’t talk, then she’s pushing too hard. Walking is also a great activity that both of you can do together.
Here are some simple strengthening exercises that will help engage some of her major muscle groups:
- Doing a set of 10 sit-to-stands from a sturdy chair is a great way to maintain leg strength.
- Standing or seated knee lifts are a great way to maintain hip and core strength and is a great fall-prevention exercise.
- Lifting and lowering her toes during the commercials of her favorite show is a great way to strengthen the muscles in the front of her legs as well as decrease the risk of falls.
- Doing wall push-ups is a great way to maintain strength in the upper back and chest.
- Doing biceps curls with soup cans, condiment bottles, or even your laundry detergent works out upper body muscles.
- Squeezing a ball between her knees strengthens the inner thigh muscles.
Another key point to consider is that many individuals, regardless of age, don’t like to “exercise.” Therefore, try to make it an activity and find something she enjoys. Perhaps a walk can be disguised as taking the grandkids to the park, walking around the mall, or going to get the mail. Or, maybe your mom would respond to an impromptu dance party in the living room. The pool might also be a great environment for your mom, especially if she has arthritis or pain.
There are also great virtual offerings she can take part in—or that you can do together. Check out the free programming being offered by the Virtual Brain Health Center. This organization offers fitness programming in addition to amazing social and intellectual programs. Also, check out what’s happening at your local senior or community center. Social engagement can have just as much benefit as physical engagement.
Once again, congrats on your interest in getting your mom more active! It might be hard for her to start, but the increase in quality of life will certainly be worth it!