Cool Off While Getting Fit

So you’ve never been an athlete. There are still ways to stay fit or get fit in the water at every age.

“It’s a fairly effective way of improving fitness in older adults,” said Michael E. Rogers, PhD, Director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University. “There can be things they avoid doing on land out of fear of falling, but the fear is reduced substantially in water.”

Summer is a perfect time to explore your neighborhood pool to cool off, meet new friends, and either swim or practice water exercises.

“Older women may have chronic or age-related conditions that increase the risk of falls or that limit their ability to remain active,” Dr. Rogers and his co-authors noted in a 2013 study on the impact of water exercising on activities of daily living. The results of the study indicated that a specific method of water-based exercises led to “significant improvements in ADL and static balance.” (ADL =Activities of Daily Living)

To Swim or Not to Swim

When it comes to a workout in the water there are two choices: swimming or water exercises. The big difference is being horizontal or being vertical. Also, in swimming you are striving to reduce resistance to increase speed and in water exercise you want to increase resistance to build strength.

“The benefit of water exercise over swimming is that you don’t need to know how to swim to do water exercises and the skill level for those is non-existent,” Dr. Rogers said. “This opens up this form of exercising to a much wider audience.”

Both swimming and water exercise have similar benefits though: minimal impact on joints, good for people living with arthritis, and cardiovascular workout.

There can be reasons to partake in water activities beyond the physical too.

“We have found that one of the primary reasons older people exercise is for the social benefit,” he said. “Maybe someone is living alone and they just don’t see people throughout the day. If they do water exercise in a group setting, there is the potential for improvement in feelings of self-worth.”

Left, Right, Left, Right

Anybody can do exercises in the water, even without a formal program or class to lead them.

Dr. Rogers suggests these simple water exercises:

  1. Jogging or walking in place or, if there is a large enough area that is waist to chest deep, walk or jogging in the water around the pool.
  2. To improve balance, lean to one side or the other standing on both feet. For more of a challenge, life one leg and lean to each side, then put that leg down and do the other side.
  3. To improve strength, open up your hands as big as possible and move your arms throughout the water.

There can be a “surf to turf” goal with water exercise in that a person can improve their balance and reduce their falls risks and then begin doing a fitness program on land instead or in addition to their water workout.

Working out in the water can be a gentle and safe way to build of strength and balance, either to prevent injury or to heal from an injury at any age.

Go Outside and Play!

Are you playing enough? Chances are that if you are out of elementary school, you might not be playing as much as you should, some experts believe.

There are many different kinds of play that can be enjoyed at any age and have benefits throughout life, according to experts who study play and its effects on the brain.

“Nothing lights up the brain like play,” said Stuart Brown, MD and founder of the National Institute for Play. Mr. Brown made this comment during a TED Talk he gave on this topic. “The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.”

Play can occur in many forms: social play, imaginative play, rough and tumble play, storytelling, games, and more. “The thing that is so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play throughout our lifetime,” Dr. Brown said. “The basis of human trust is established through play signals.”

Child’s Play?

Play seems to have been lost in the crunch of work, commutes, online activity, and taking care of day-to-day responsibilities. What makes play so healthy is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it—no one takes a class to learn how to play—and it’s voluntary when you want and how you want to do it. There can be organized play too, such as sports, or crafts and clubs where there are the additional benefits of dependable social engagement.

It might feel a little awkward to set up a playdate for yourself, but there are more and more options available for adults who want to rediscover their inner child:

  1. Grab a coloring book designed for grownups. See if there is a coloring book party (like book clubs) going on in your area. An NBC Nightly News report noted that adult coloring books are so popular in France that they are outselling cookbooks. Adults that enjoy this pastime describe it as “meditative” and “stress reducing.”
  2. Join a laughter club—for free. It sounds backwards to makeyourself laugh, but the idea is to relax, let off some stress, socialize, and be spontaneous.
  3. Finger paint or try on some costumes! Seriously. The trend of adult play is so popular that there is now an “adult preschool” in Brooklyn where people with jobs do traditional preschool activities together after work hours and find that mushing Play-doh, playing dress up, and such is fun and relaxing.

While these ideas are a bit retro, the concept is the same as joining a local sports team, signing up for arts & crafts clubs, meeting for regular card or board games, or other non-work activities and times to connect socially.

All Work and No Play…

Play should not be optional, but a key part of daily life for people of all ages, experiences, and abilities. In other words, play should not be treated as a luxury, but instead a necessity to everyone.

“We do know that in domestic animals and rats when they are play-deprived that they don’t develop a brain that is normal,” said Dr. Brown. “Think about a life without play, no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy, and try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise, without play.”

This acceptable play is something of a backlash to the multi-tasking world of adulthood that is so familiar. Playing can be physical activity—jumping on a trampoline or into a ball pit, shuffleboard, softball, swimming, tennis, pickleball, and much more—or it can be playing a musical instrument, or engaging in something that brings you joy.

If you aren’t sure what your idea of playing or fun is, Dr. Brown has some advice: “Explore backwards as far as you can go to the most playful image you have, and build on that emotion.”

Staying Engaged

There are a lot of uncertainties after a diagnosis of dementia—for the individual living with the disease and for their family. Yet experts advise staying engaged with life during the early stages of dementia and then keeping someone with dementia engaged as the disease progresses.

As a person’s ability to recognize their loved ones recedes when dementia progresses, it can be challenging to stay engaged. Despite the illness there is still a better quality of life to experience when a person can engage their mind and body with social, physical, and creative activities.

“Engaging older persons with dementia in appropriate activities has been shown to yield beneficial effects such as increasing positive emotions, improving activities of daily living (ADL) and improving the quality of life,” state the authors of a paper title, “Engagement in persons with dementia: the concept and its measurement” that was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. “The study of engagement is a necessary foundation for the development of non pharmacological interventions for persons with dementia, whether the interventions address depression, agitation, apathy, loneliness, or boredom.”

Drop the Stigma ASAP

Societal stigmas about dementia may be interfering with the possibilities for engagement.

“A 2012 public opinion survey conducted by the Marist Institute of more than 1,200 Americans placed dementia as the most feared health condition above cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes,” explains Karen Love, founder of the Dementia Action Alliance. “This is likely because dementia is a condition saddled with societal stigmas and one that is widely misunderstood.  The misperceptions and societal stigmas are of dementia being all doom and gloom and lost abilities rather than a positive orientation to support and engage existing strengths and abilities.  Positive engagement is central to psychosocial well-being.”

Ms. Love shares examples of people living with dementia who are finding ways to remain engaged in their lives despite their diagnosis. One of these examples if that of a retired pharmacist living with young onset dementia who devised a simple, ingenious plan he calls ASAP to help support his well-being.  “ASAP stands for Acceptance, Socialization, Attitude, and Purpose,” Ms. Love said. “This means accepting he has a degenerative neurocognitive disorder, staying active socially because it is important to him, keeping a positive attitude about life, and continuing activities that provide him purpose and interesting things to do.”

But How?

As a family caregiver or friend to someone living with dementia, you may not know how to continue to engage with them, despite your best intentions.  Ms. Love notes that there are countless ways to positively engage someone who is living with dementia, and offers a few tips:

  1. The most important step is to know what the individual finds enjoyable and interesting.
  2. Not all engagement is active.  For example, some people like to spend time outside feeling the sun and hearing birds or wind blowing.
  3. Sitting on the front porch and watching the neighborhood activity can be interesting as well.  Going for a walk is fun and good exercise.
  4. Looking at magazines and picture books together is interesting and provides ways to stimulate conversation.

Ms. Love is the Managing Director of FIT Kits®, engagement products for people living with dementia. They are evidence-based and research-tested under a grant from the National Institute on Aging.  Each kit includes different activities—puzzles, games, fitness, and more.

“The research found that 90% of care partners reported that the individual living with dementia enjoyed FIT Kit® activities a lot, and the same percentage of care partners reported that they enjoyed the engagement as well,” she says. “FIT Kit items were able to address the challenge of finding interesting and meaningful things to do and increased the quality of interaction between the individual and care partners.”

Ultimately, it matters how we treat each person.

“Our understanding and expectations about what an individual can or cannot do affects how we treat them, and how they are treated subsequently impacts upon their overall well-being,” says Ms. Love.

Osteoporosis: What You Need to Know

Osteoporosis affects millions of people who are then at greater risk for broken bones in the event of a fall. Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that makes them weak and prone to breakage.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass and one in two women and up to one in four men over age 50 will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month and a time to learn more about how to prevent the disease and live a healthy live after a diagnosis.

No Bones About It

There are a number of factors that make some people at greater risk for osteoporosis: women over the age of 50, of a slender build and with a family history of the disease are the most susceptible.

One of the main reasons that women have osteoporosis more than men (20 percent of those affected by osteoporosis are men, according the National Osteoporosis Foundation) is due to their loss of estrogen after menopause in their 50s. The loss of estrogen affects bone strength.

Diet, exercise and lifestyle habits such as smoking can also impact osteoporosis risk. In addition, many chronic conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, COPD, and more, can increase the risk for osteoporosis. There are many medications that can increase a person’s risk for osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends talking with your health care provider about this possible side effect.

Bone Up on Osteoporosis Facts

Experts agree that weight-bearing exercise, as well as activities like yoga that can help with balance, are beneficial before developing osteoporosis, and recommend checking with a doctor if you already have the condition and want to start a new exercise regimen.

A calcium-rich diet—especially when combined with Vitamin D—is beneficial in preventing osteoporosis. Fruits and vegetables are also good for bone health. Habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and not exercising can lead to osteoporosis.

People with osteoporosis can still live healthy and active lives, all while decreasing their fall risks. Tai Chi is recommended for exercise because it does not include as much twisting and bending of the spine as other stretching activities, but it still helps with balance. Good balance depends in part on being able to see—such as the accurate height of a curb—and hear properly, so experts encourage people with osteoporosis to get both eyesight and hearing tested to also ensure proper balance.

For those diagnosed with osteoporosis, make changes in the home to ensure greater safety and less likelihood of a fall:

  • Install grab bars in the bathroom for easier rising and sitting to and from the toilet or shower.
  • Get non-skid pads underneath all carpet and rugs or remove loose rugs that might be tripped over.
  • Add nightlights in the bathroom and bedroom where you are most likely to walk in the dark.
  • Always use the handrail when going up or down a stairway.
  • Clear any clutter that could be a fall hazard and make walkways clear.

A diagnosis of osteoporosis may cause a person anxiety and impact their social life, but it is possible to live a full and happy life with this disease.

Walk with a Doc

Walking is a free activity that most people can do at any age in any location. However, people aren’t walking enough and need the physical and mental health benefits associated with this simple exercise.

walk with a docDr. David Sabgir recognized a need to motivate and inform people about walking so he started Walk with a Doc and now there are 143 locations in 35 states and five countries, including Canada. Walk with a Doc is a regular gathering in a public park in your city where a doctor—and sometimes other health experts—meet up with members of the general public to take a walk together while also learning more about good health.  

“By providing a health care professional, we are looking to break down many barriers,” Dr. Sabgir said. The barriers he is referring to include barriers between patients and exercise, patients and physicians, and more. “You have a physician that you can bounce questions off of without a charge, a wait, or any hassles in a relaxing environment.” 

Step into Health

The benefits of walking are universally touted and an important part of reducing symptoms of many chronic conditions.
According to the Mayo Clinic, walkers can improve their health:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
  • strengthen your bones
  • lift your mood
  • improve your balance and coordination

The health benefits increase the faster, farther and more frequently that you walk. 

Walk with a Doc metrics also show that:

  • 90.8 percent of participants feel they are more educated since starting Walk with a Doc
  • 75.2 percent of participants get significantly more exercise since starting Walk with a Doc
  • 70.1 percent of participants feel more empowered
  • 98.5 percent enjoy the refreshing concept of pairing physicians with communities outside the traditional setting

“There have been hundreds of thousands of significant friendships created though the program,” Dr. Sabgir said. “Many of our walkers get together outside of the weekly events to meet for whatever reason.”

Walk On

Since walking is free and does not require equipment or trained skills, it is surprising to learn how needed a program like Walk with a Doc is for the general public. 

“Unfortunately only three percent of our country is achieving 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week,” Dr. Sabgir explained. “We are all bombarded with health ‘information’ and know exactly what to do—what we need is health inspiration.”

The opportunity to talk with doctors, walk with friends, and enjoy the great outdoors, provides inspiration for the thousands of people who Walk with a Doc. Not only can anyone show up to join in a walk (find a location near you here), local businesses can provide sponsorship at the local and national level. Walk with a Doc is adding about two sites per week, but new partnerships mean they may be adding five sites a week within a year. 

“We have countless sponsors throughout the nation who partner with local chapters of WWAD,” said Rachael Habash, Executive Director of Walk with a Doc. “While these sponsors are not listed on our sponsorship page, they have an opportunity to promote their business at local walks.  For example, various coffee shops will donate coffee; shoe stores will help with start-up costs; grocery stores will donate food items.  There are countless others and many ways to get involved locally.”

Whether you live near a beach, in the mountains or the heart of the city, go for a walk today and help fulfill the mission of Walk with a Doc: “Our mission is to encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages, and reverse the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in order to improve the health and well-being of the country.”

Physical Exercise May Help Brain Health

Exercise may not just help seniors physically – some experts believe it can help with cognitive issues as well.

A study published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when a person went through a six-month program of physical activity, it provided a modest level of improvement in memory-related issues.

senior exerciseHowever, for those coping with a chronic condition, such as seniors in need of elder home care services, the task of starting a new exercise regime is a daunting and worrisome. Before an older adult attempts any physical exercise, they should consult their physician to make sure they do not perform any workout that could be harmful or unsafe.

After getting a health care provider’s approval, many fitness trainers at local gyms and YMCAs know specific techniques the elderly can use. It is the job of these instructors to motivate older people to get off the couch without a sense of intimidation.

Since seniors often don’t have spare funds for a personal trainer, many fitness centers offer group lessons at reasonable rates. Aqua aerobic classes or walking clubs are two popular choices. These classes come with the bonus of making exercise a social endeavor – which experts believe also helps with brain health.

Water fitness is a good option because experts say it is generally gentle, with motions that make a low impact on joints. It is also a good preference for people with serious physical impairments. Those who have trouble walking can sometimes still move in the pool. Furthermore, the water resistance improves a person’s strength over time, helps with cardiovascular fitness, and supplies a safe environment. This gives the person working out peace of mind that they won’t put too much strain on their bodies all at once.

Tai chi is another option to improve balance and core strength in seniors. According to the Harvard Health Publication, a newsletter of the Harvard Medical School (HMC), tai chi, which is often described as “meditation in motion,” “might well be called ‘medication’ in motion.’” Experts believe tai chi can help the elderly achieve muscle strength, aerobic conditioning, balance and flexibility. Some believe it also makes a positive impact on arthritis, bone density, breast cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems, stroke paralysis and Parkinson’s disease.

For more information and links to resources, please visit the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports website, and download a copy of Homewatch CareGivers’ Guide to Senior Health and Wellness.

Ways to Mitigate Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is a term for more than 100 conditions, disorders, and diseases that affects 50 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. More than aches and pains people endure as they get older, it is a potentially debilitating disease.

Magnifying Glass Over Arthritis Word

The information contained in this article should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your health care provider for appropriate diet and lifestyle changes for you.

While it can take many forms, three are the most common:

  • Osteoarthritis – A degenerative joint disease illustrated by the breakdown of cartilage between joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – A disease where the membranes lining joints become inflamed.
  • Juvenile arthritis – An umbrella term, this describes the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions in children ages 16 and younger.

While different types of arthritis are unique, steps to help mitigate the pain that comes with one type often works for all of them. These considerations can be especially helpful for those who need after surgery home care or elder home care services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says there is strong evidence that exercise can help those with arthritis. Furthermore, each pound of weight a person loses results in four pounds of pressure taken off each knee.

Some ideas for arthritis-safe exercise include:

  • Yoga – This not only reduces a person’s weight, but also promotes relaxation and builds strength.
  • Walking – This can reduce stiffness and help get joints moving.
  • Water aerobics – This can provide a low-impact workout, saving joints from fatigue while strengthening the muscles around them.

Alterations to a person’s diet can also help manage the pain associated with arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends these food options:

  • Fish, kiwi fruit, flax seed and a variety of nuts contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Whole-grains, fish, nuts and legumes contain selenium, a mineral with antioxidant properties.
  • Eggs, whole milk and fish provide vitamin D, which may prevent the development and/or progression of rheumatoid arthritis.

Some supplements and herbs can also help those with arthritis:

  • Fish oil is said to have anti-inflammatory properties due to the presence of omega-3s.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin, often found together in supplements, may also be able to help with inflammation.
  • Ginger and turmeric may make pain easier to manage.

Please consult your health care provider before making any dietary or lifestyle changes to make sure these steps are the best steps for you or your loved one.

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