Cardiovascular health is very important for people of all ages, and living a fit and active life is the best way to achieve that goal. For those of us caring for an aging parent, it can be difficult to ensure that our family member is getting the right amount of physical activity, and even more of a challenge to find the time and energy to take care of ourselves as well. Working out together will help both parent and child to improve their health, and can also offer an opportunity to strengthen familial bonds and to communicate more clearly.
Advanced age can come with a number of serious physical impediments to fitness. The aging process can impact many aspects of physical ability, making some workouts completely beyond the reach of older adults. Even for people who don’t suffer from more extreme health issues like neuropathy or arthritis, exercise can present many challenges specific to seniors. Over time, muscle density will decrease, which reduces strength and endurance. Tendons and ligaments can shorten or become stiff, which limits flexibility. A declining heart rate means that less oxygen is pumped through body, and this can cause muscles to feel the strain more and earlier during physical exertion.
This can be one of the most frustrating parts of growing older for many people. Activities that were challenging but achievable in the past become impossible, and this loss of ability can be traumatic. Although it can be easy to become discouraged by these physiological changes, they do not mean that exercise is off the table. Swimming or water aerobics, as well as walking or low-pace cycling are all reliable, common choices for boosting cardiovascular health and improving overall fitness among seniors. Embracing hobbies such as gardening and dancing is another great way to stay in shape. Aside from being excellent for your health, these activities can be fun, pleasant, and relaxing ways for family members to spend time together.
There are two types of exercise that you as a caregiver should be aware of: moderate intensity and high intensity exercise. Moderate intensity is generally defined as a workout that still allows you to carry on a conversation. High intensity exercise is characterized by the inability to speak more than a few words at a time with longer intervals in between to regain breath. With these definitions, the intensity of your workout is defined by your own abilities, which makes it easy for non-medical professionals to understand what level of aerobics they’re engaged in and serves as a way to monitor heart rate.
For most seniors, the healthiest option for a regular workout will be moderate intensity exercises for about 30-60 minutes per day, several times a week. Walking and low-pace bicycle rides are great examples of moderate intensity exercises. These activities will put your heart rate into the lower half of the â€˜aerobic zone,’ which will work it out without placing undue strain on it.
Finding time to openly discuss your needs and any changes in care is important, but for many families it can be difficult. Inserting a session of moderate intensity exercise as a regular part of your weekly and daily routine is a healthy way to address two important needs of caregivers and their parents. These activities are excellent for the health of people of all ages, and the time you have set aside for them will also serve as a scheduled opportunity for conversations. Take the time to talk about recent test results, doctor visits, and changes in medication. Also use it to discuss the needs of the caregiver, such as finding ways to take time out for yourself and to maintain your social life.
High intensity exercises should be done with care, and only after discussing your plan with your parent’s doctor. These workouts raise the heart rate to the upper half of the â€˜aerobic zone,’ which is a healthy part of exercise for younger people, but can put a dangerous amount of strain on an already weakened heart. If you and the physician decide that this is a good option for your parent, limit sessions to about 15 minutes per day, around three times a week. Be sure to incorporate some moderate intensity into the routine as well in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
It is very important to discuss your parent’s limitations and capacity with their medical professional before embarking on an exercise regimen. The goal is to improve cardiovascular health, not to take any unnecessary risks with your loved one’s heart.
Sam Foster is a health writer with a passion for running, swimming, and cycling. When he’s not gearing up for his next Iron Man or triathlon he writes for St. Luke’s Hospital, one of the nation’s top hospitals in heart care.