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Exercise to Improve Everyday Function in Elders

Older adults often experience progressive decline in everyday function when they are not actively working to continue to build and keep their strength up. Cognitively complex tasks like dialing a telephone and functional tasks requiring gross motor function such as walking and getting up out of a chair are tasks that can be taken away from an individual before they even realize it. Certain health conditions may even accelerate decline in everyday function. Interventions addressing specific functional deficits, like immobility, have been shown to provide significant benefits to our elders. Keeping exercise apart of your daily life not only helps keep physical function intact, but also has proven beneficial effects on cognition.

Exercise programs have been shown to reduce the risk of falls with associated benefits on mortality, morbidity, and costs to health and social care. Walking helps to prove mobility, but it has also been found to reduce depression. Body weight-based exercises are also great options. If exercising while standing unaided is too challenging, then task, specific chair-based exercise has been found to be safe and effective for elders. It is ideal for those who are at high risk of falls, have severe joint problems, or are wheelchair bound. This type of exercise still helps to improve strength, flexibility, and circulation. Make sure whatever exercise program you choose also varies in size and training type. Some options to include are yoga, breathing exercises, and range of motion exercises. Exercise can increase strength, power, flexibility, ability to perform everyday tasks, balance, and reduce depression, body fat, arthritic pain, postural hypotension, and risk of falls. With exercise, our elders can experience an enhanced overall well-being.

Before you begin a chair-based exercise program, make sure to choose a sturdy, 4-legged chair with back support. It shouldn’t have arms and shouldn’t fold, roll, slide, or wobble. Here are a few of our favorite exercises that we love:

  • Warm Up-

  • Sit up nice and tall and take a couple of deep breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth.

  • Look up to the sky to stretch the neck. Look down to you toes. Hold each pose 3-5 seconds and repeat.

  • Look over your right shoulder and then to your left. Hold each pose 3-5 seconds and repeat.

  • Turn your head to place your ear to your shoulder and switch to the other side. Hold 3-5 seconds and repeat.

  • Take a deep breath in and out.

  • Shoulder work-

  • Roll shoulders to the back 5 times and then forward 5 times.

  • Lift shoulders up and then back down. Repeat 5 times.

  • Lift right shoulder up while left shoulder is down and switch. Repeat 10 times.

  • Give your shoulders a shake. Shake arms out.

  • Take a deep breath in and out.

  • Arm work-

  • Sit up straight and place back of hands on thighs. Touch your shoulders with the tips of your fingers 5 times. If you are able, you can add a small weight.

  • Take your right hand and reach out in front of you as if you are grabbing something and pulling it back to you. Switch to the left arm and repeat both exercises 5 times each.

  • Reach your right hand up to the sky as if you are grabbing something and pulling it back to you. Switch to the left arm and repeat both exercise 5 times each.

  • Bring both hands up in front of your chest and rolls both wrists around in circles. Repeat 5 times.

  • Repeat this exercise circling wrists in the opposite direction 5 times.

  • Take a deep breath in and out.

  • Toros/ Abdominal work-

  • Torso twist. Place arms up at shoulder height with tips of fingers touching each other and elbows out. Turn full torso to the right and then the left coming to the center each time and holding for 1 second. Repeat 5 times.

  • Deep breath in and out.

Remember to work at your own pace and only do as many repetitions as you are able.

  • Leg work-

  • March legs in place. Right foot up and back down. Left foot up and back down. Repeat for 1-3 minutes.

  • Add arm movement to the marching. The more your arms move and the higher your knees are up; heart will increase for cardiovascular exercise benefits.

  • Take a deep breath in and out.

  • Leg extension. Lift right foot up and straight ahead off the ground. Switch to the leg and repeat each 5 times.

  • Tap toes on the ground. Repeat 5 times.

  • Tap heels on the ground. Repeat 5 times.

  • Now tap toes and heels back and forth. Repeat 5 times.

  • Cool down-

  • Raise right leg and roll ankle. Switch to the left. Repeat 5 times.

  • Circle ankles in the opposite direction 5 times each.

  • Sit up tall and take a deep breath in and out. Repeat.

These are great exercises to perform 3 days a week such as Monday, Wednesday, Fridays for 10-20 minutes at a time based on ability and endurance. Using weights and increasing weights can be increased gradually as tolerated. On Tuesdays and Thursday if able, a nice walk at a comfortable pace should do the job.

For those with cognitive impairment, exercise may look very different. It may include:

  • Petting a stuffed cat

  • Tossing a ball

  • Following 1 step commands

  • Playing simple board games

With any exercise routine, first check with your doctor to make sure that exercising is safe for you and that the type of exercise you choose will be the most beneficial. Start slow in the beginning and don’t feel pressured to finish repetitions. Always remember to go at your own pace and don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for working towards bettering yourself and your health.





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