I work with many older clients and a regular conversation we have is about bungalow legs and how to avoid this growing wide spread condition suffered by the elderly.
Many people reach a certain age and they decide their house is far too big and so they downsize, either in to a retirement flat or a bungalow. Either way, the absence of stairs is noticeable and often one of the deciding factors when choosing the new home.
This might seem like a great idea in preparing for the later stage of life but think about the impact not having stairs in the home can have. A flight of stairs is your own personal workout place. Going up and down stairs helps keep your leg muscles strong and your knees flexible, the very things bungalow legs don’t have. It also helps when you go out of the home, because you cannot avoid stairs for ever. Even if it is two steps up or down in a restaurant, a few steps to visit the toilet, getting on a bus, going to see friends and relatives – stairs figure a lot in our everyday lives.
Regular exercise often takes a back seat, or a complete departure, when we become elderly. The time when we should be making sure we are moving to keep our joints lubricated naturally, helping our cardiovascular system stay efficient, helping to maintain our physical and mental wellbeing is all down to keeping active. Socially we depend on being mobile – it can make for a very long day if we are waiting for someone to call in rather than go out and meet up with people or just a quick chat in the shops or on the bus. Having bungalow legs can be very isolating.
Exercise helps improve your strength and your balance which in turn helps prevent falls and give confidence when walking. By maintaining a regime of fitness – and it does not have to be down the gym 5 times a week – this can help you stay physically independent and also mentally alert.
The sort of exercise that you should be undertaking is walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, playing bowls, gardening, and aiming to do roughly 150 minutes every week. Breaking that down in to manageable chunks of 10-15 minutes of exercise at least twice a day. Also spending a bit of time improving strength, flexibility and balance with at home exercises or Yoga/Pilates/ Tai Chi class (or put on a DVD if a class is not available).
I personally would not recommend Zumba class unless it is specifically aimed at the over 65 age group. The sudden change of direction can have a nasty effect on knees and could put an end to exercise for a long time trying to recover, back to square one with something worse than bungalow legs!!
I see a lot of elderly exercise advertised as “chair exercises” – this is fine for those who are already unsteady or have mobility issues, but if you are just a bit stiff from lack of movement then you should be weight bearing – safely – which helps strengthen bones and keeps muscles strong.
Not only does regular exercise help with mobility but there is strong evidence that people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, and dementia.
If you want to stay pain-free, reduce your risk of mental illness, and be able to go out and stay independent well into old age, you are advised to keep moving and even increase your activity as you get older.
An example of incorporating daily exercise is as follows:
Monday – 15-minute walk x 2
Tuesday – 15-minute walk x 2
Wednesday – 30 minute cycling, swimming, water aerobics, etc
Thursday – Rest
Friday – 30 minute walk (or 15-minute walk x 2)
Saturday – 30 minute cycling, swimming, water aerobics, etc
Sunday – Rest
There are several websites if you do a Google search for appropriate exercises for elderly people. Always check with your GP, physio or a Health Professional that they are suitable and that you can do them properly and safely.
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