Getting and Staying Active are Keys to Healthy and Happy Aging

Life isn’t living without movement.

Aristotle said “happiness is a state of activity.”

Seniors and their caregivers are encouraged by experts in health and wellness (and Senior Care Corner®) to get active and stay active.

We say it all the time — find something that you and your senior loved one enjoy doing and make it part of your routine.

Movement and physical activity must become priorities and part of your daily lifestyle for it to become inherent in your day.

There is no question about the positive physical and mental health benefits both seniors and family caregivers can reap when they get active, but we still aren’t doing it!

Researchers have begun trying to uncover the cause of our complacency so they can help us finally get on the right track.

Studying Our Physical Activity

A recent report conducted for AARP Research, called the 2016 Survey on Physical Activity, tried to determine how much we (all those over 40 years) are participating in physical activity pursuits, what we are doing to be active, what are our perceived barriers to activity and how our movement parlays into brain health.

Over 1,500 people were surveyed across the country to create a representative and diverse sample of participants.

They found:

  • 75% believe exercise would improve their health and quality of life
  • 56% report participating in any physical activity during the week
  • 34% meet the guidelines of being active 150 minutes a week in moderate to vigorous activity
  • 53% state their activity of choice is walking
  • 15% report strength training
  • 8% report running or jogging
  • 34% were described as ‘contemplators’ who thought about beginning to exercise in some way
  • One in ten report satisfaction being sedentary
  • 24% saw no reason to exercise
  • Two in ten say they are planning to exercise in some activity in the near future
  • 30% are tracking their health measures via a computer, app, or wearable device

Benefits of Movement

Most experts agree that regular physical activity can make seniors’ mood better by reducing depression, relieving stress, sidelining anger, and giving them a feel-good sensation.

It can alleviate boredom too.

Most importantly, it improves health and well-being. The American Heart Association tells us that adults who watch more than 4 hours of television a day have a 46% increased risk of death from any cause and an 80% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Those surveyed who are actively engaged in physical activity report their brain health is better compared to those respondents who don’t move.

The group of exercisers also reported that their brain health and mental abilities increased over the past five years compared to non-exercisers.

Perceived improvements in brain health include wisdom, life satisfaction, managing stress, problem solving, decision making, learning something new, paying attention, focus, and remembering things.

Those surveyed realize these benefits of regular physical activity:

  1. Better overall health
  2. Greater fitness
  3. Improved quality of life
  4. Help reaching weight goals
  5. Improved appearance
  6. Reduced levels of chronic disease
  7. Improve self-esteem
  8. Improve brain health and sharpness
  9. Improve mood
  10. Help social interactions

What Blocks Staying Active?

In the AARP Research study, respondents reported that they don’t enjoy activity. 68% agree that getting enough physical activity is completely in their control. They state they have little desire or will power to begin or keep doing it once started.

29% say they aren’t the ‘exercise type’. Some reported they don’t feel comfortable being active around others.

16% say they are afraid of hurting themselves. Some feel they don’t know which exercise or activity would be the most beneficial so don’t do any.

32% reported that if their doctor told them to get that much exercise, they would do it.

Only 21% report that people who are important to them are being active. Sounds like a good way for family caregivers to find ways to be active together, encouraging and supporting each other’s healthy lifestyles. 28% said that if they had a friend being active, they would do it too.

Some say they don’t have the energy to exercise. 29% say they feel too tired.

27% report that they can’t afford to exercise and that it costs too much money.

21% say they would love to go outside and exercise but their community makes it a challenge.

Do We Know Value of Activity?

Time might also be thought of as a barrier but more than likely prioritizing their time is more to the point. 65% of the respondents agree that they would give up watching TV or movies in order to get active. 20% reported that getting physical took too much time.

Of the survey group, most recognized that their physical health was not as sharp as their mental health.

In other words, they know they need more activity but continue to watch TV instead of going for a walk.

Despite the fact that almost 60% of those asked stated that they weigh more than they should for their height, only half of them track their weight and one third track their diet and sleep.

Does that mean we would rather not know, denial may improve our health?

Researchers were left with the impression that many respondents didn’t know if the benefits of exercise outweighed the expenditure — cost, time or potential injury.

Movement Seniors Are Doing

In this study, participants tracked their own physical activity and the activities they enjoyed doing.

The activity most seniors did was walk, whether it was near home or in some other location.

Some took their pets and others did not. They would walk for their own health not just to care for a pet.

40% reported doing gardening or yard work regularly.

Some report participating in flexibility exercises, cardio workout machines, weight training, Pilates, strength training, calisthenics such as jumping jacks, and running.

They also reported participating in these sports but in low numbers less than 7%: dancing, yoga, tai chi, hiking, golfing, fishing, bowling, skiing, aerobics, non-stationary biking, team sports, martial arts, or racket sports.

Caregivers as Buddies

There are a wide variety of physical activities and ways to get moving that can bring improved physical health along with improved balance, friendships, socialization opportunities and a better mood or outlook on life.

It is easier for many of us to get moving when we have a buddy to share the experience.

Caregivers are poised to help their seniors do just that and could also benefit from physical activity so that they can continue providing care and living their own healthy and happy lives.

Time to get moving!