Elderly grandparent keeps an active lifestyle by engaging in physical activity with family

How to Live Longer

How would you like to extend your life without having to make much of a sacrifice? According to researchers, half an hour of light exercise, six days a week is all that is needed for an elderly person to reduce their chances of mortality and increase their life expectancy by more than 40 per cent.

This was the conclusion drawn after a 12-year Norwegian study of 6,000 men aged 73 and above. The research suggests that those who took a brisk walk daily reduced their risk of dying by almost half compared to the sedentary group.

This is because exercise reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and helps to maintain muscle strength, thereby preventing falls, says Dr Joanne Kua, Consultant, Falls and Balance Clinic and Institute of Geriatrics and Active Ageing at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Exercise won’t just bring the gift of a longer life, it can also enhance cognitive health and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Says Dr Kua, “All these benefits work together to prevent disabilities, thus enabling the older adult to live as independently as possible for as long as possible, improving their quality of life.”

Start Slow with Simple Exercises for the Elderly

It is never too late to start getting active but sedentary older adults should have a thorough medical check-up before starting any activity. This is to rule out any medical conditions that could preclude them from exercising, recommends Dr Kua.

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, start slow and opt for a simple exercise routine. Begin with short intervals of light-intensity physical activity — say, five to 10 minutes at a time — and gradually increase the duration of this light activity and the number of days a week of exercising before slowly building up to the desired amount.

The Health Promotion Board’s National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults and seniors get 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as jogging. This is in addition to strength-training activities two days per week. In other words, going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes, five days a week and doing tai chi twice a week is sufficient to meet the recommendations.

However, if you have existing medical conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis or a history of heart attacks, ask your doctor to design a regimen more suited to you. It should take into account the type, frequency, intensity and the progression of the activity.

For a really simple exercise routine to get you started, check out these 7 Easy Exercises. They include strength exercises, balance exercises and flexibility exercises which you should do at least twice a week.

For seniors with limited mobility in a nursing home or assisted living facility, there are also simple exercises you can do sitting down. You can still reap the benefits of exercise, whether you’re doing them standing or sitting down.

What If It Hurts?

Stop if you experience discomfort, and consult a doctor. “In older adults, chest discomfort, breathlessness and excessive joint pains may be signs to stop and discuss with their physician the right intensity and type of exercises they are doing,” says Dr Kua.

A common myth is that exercise can contribute to knee pain. Exercise can actually reduce pain and improve mobility, but solving this requires a collaborative effort with the physician and physiotherapist.

“The physician will need to control the pain with medication. The physiotherapist will then introduce them to stretching, aerobic and strengthening exercises in stages, to help with their osteoarthritis.”

Fun Activities for the Elderly

To get started, all you need is a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. Remember to stay cool and hydrated. Bring along a water bottle and wear a hat, and consider timing your walks for the early morning or evening.

Lengthen your walks gradually—start with 15 to 20 minutes a day—to avoid overdoing it. You can also choose to brisk walk 15 minutes twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening.

If a brisk walk sounds boring, try a group exercise class, such as Zumba Gold at your local community centre. There are many fun activities for seniors, just keep an open mind and look forward to an interesting experience.

Or find a buddy to exercise with. A friend will not only keep you entertained, he or she can also help you stick to your exercise routine in the long term.

“Exercising in groups for older adults has the added benefits of social engagement and mutual encouragement which can help to motivate them to continue to be active,” says Dr Kua.

But if full-on exercising is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other ways to stay physically active — dancing, playing golf and even vacuuming the floor can be aerobic in nature.

Carrying groceries and walking instead of taking the public transport and washing windows or the floor can also double up as strength-training.

Exercise and Eat Well

Don’t forget to stick to a healthy well-balanced diet for a longer life too. Make wise eating choices such as:

  • consuming more whole grains, fruit and vegetables,
  • cutting down on unhealthy fats such as saturated and trans fats
  • eating in moderation
  • reduce your sugar and salt intake
  • eat calcium-rich food such as dairy products

Exercise doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Make it a fun, enjoyable regular part of your daily routine and enjoy a longer life starting from today.

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