Guest Blog: Four Essential Types of Exercise for Older Adults

_DSF1048By Kristine Chan
Bachelor of Applied Health Sciences (BAHSc)

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week for adults 65 years and older. This may be achieved in three bouts of 10 minutes each, five days a week.

According to the American College of Sports and Medicine, physical activity programs should focus on areas such as, balance, flexibility, aerobic and resistance training in order to maintain and/ or improve activities of daily living, cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness. As we age, our balance, flexibility and muscular strength begin to decline. Maintaining and improving all areas of fitness together will enhance ones overall independence.

When beginning any exercise program, remember to start slowly and to gradually increase the intensity of the activity with comfort. Safety considerations when engaging in physical activity include consulting your physician before beginning an exercise program, ensuring that you exercise on a stable surface (i.e. non- slip surface), placing a support surface near by (i.e. sturdy chair, grab bar or a wall for support) and wearing proper footwear. The benefits of engaging in physical activity result in improvement in ones quality of function, sleep, mood and independence.

Balance
The International Council on Active Aging states that balance exercises prevent falls, improve stability, coordination and mobility. Improving and maintaining balance is needed in order to perform flexibility, aerobic and resistance training exercises. For example, balance is needed to maintain control of one’s body position when walking or changing one’s body position.

Flexibility
A Human Kinetics article entitled The Importance and Purpose of Flexibility explains that flexibility training is important as it enables an individual to improve posture and to remain independent. It is important to improve and/or maintain flexibility as it assists in aerobic and resistance training. Research has indicated that flexibility increases and restores the muscles’ range of motion. Static stretching is an example of flexibility training. Activities of static stretching bring the joint to a comfortable end range of motion.

Aerobic
An Active Living Coalition for Older Adults report states that, aerobic exercise helps improve and/or maintain coordination, strength and aerobic endurance. Aerobic exercise measures the functional component of the cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal system to perform activities for an extended period of time. Activities of aerobic exercise may include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aqua fit and dancing.

Resistance
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends 2 days of resistance training per week. Resistance training offers a variety of health benefits which include falls prevention, increase in bone density (i.e. reducing the risk of osteoporosis), endurance, muscular strength, balance and function. Additionally, resistance training aids in management of chronic diseases such as, heart disease and diabetes by increasing the body’s metabolism and reducing body fat. Resistant training exercises can mimic activities of daily living such as, carrying grocery bags or getting up or off a chair.

Physical activity results in a variety of health benefits. Researchers have indicated that the cardiovascular, muscular and cognitive functions improve and benefit from exercises such as, aerobic and resistance training. All areas of exercise such as, balance, flexibility, aerobic and resistance training complement each other in order to prevent falls, improve one’s posture, cardiovascular and muscular fitness and management of disease(s).

Participating in safe and enjoyable physical activity is key to maintaining and improving one’s overall independence.

Technology and Aging: Can Technology Help to Reduce Social Isolation?

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A report entitled Social Isolation in Older Adults: An evolutionary concept analysis describes social isolation as “a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships.”

Social isolation and loneliness are often used as interchangeable terms, however, social isolation is an objective term and loneliness is a subjective term based on an individual’s perception of their relationships and social connectedness.

The prevalence of social isolation among older adults is difficult to quantify. A Canadian Government Report on Social Isolation of Seniors offers these statistics:

“Although knowledge and data about social isolation of seniors in Canada are limited, existing findings demonstrate that many older Canadians are socially isolated or at risk of becoming so. In a Statistics Canada 2012 Health Report, almost one in four adults over the age of 65 (24%) reported that they would have liked to have participated in more social activities in the past year. Statistics Canada’s 2008/09 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 19% of individuals aged 65 or over felt a lack of companionship, left out, or isolated from others.”

Older adults may experience social isolation due to death of a spouse/friend, illness, disability, lack of transportation, depression, low self-esteem, and/or poverty (among other contributing factors). Often, relatives of older adults live far away and may be unable to provide the supports necessary to ensure that their loved ones remain socially engaged.

Fortunately, technology may be able to provide some solutions to these challenges. Communication technologies such as Skype, Twitter, Facebook, and email have the capacity to allow individuals to remain socially connected with family and friends, maintaining their existing social circles in spite of physical barriers. Technology companies such as Stitch have created networks specifically for older adults looking for companionship, supporting the growth of personal networks based on specific needs and interests.

The University of Toronto’s Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab (Taglab) is developing unique technologies to deal specifically with social isolation. Intouch “allows family members to send video messages to each other and have them appear on televisions, computers or tablets, so that regardless of availability, loved ones can stay in touch” according to a CBC news article entitled ‘How Skype and email could help seniors avoid loneliness – and an early death’.

Technology can also be used indirectly to help older adults who may be at risk for social isolation. A United Kingdom charity called Friends of the Elderly created a campaign “calling on everyone to be a friend” to an older adult in their community. Using social media tools like Twitter, the charity encourages and suggests ways for individuals to connect with older adults on a daily basis. Their report entitled The Future of Loneliness “looks at the landscape for loneliness amongst older people, in the next 5, 10 and 15 years”.

Like any tool, communication technology should be used properly in order for it to be most effective. It therefore lies in the hands of the user to create and grow their own positive, personalized social network according to their own needs, interests, and abilities. Although technology is not a panacea for social isolation in all cases, (there may be barriers to this solution such as accessibility and cost) it may be a lifeline for some isolated older adults.

For more information on the issue of social isolation, a recent television program entitled All the Lonely People provides a compelling overview on the positive and negative uses of technology to help overcome isolation.

Looking for a way to connect with older adults in your community? Check out #beafriend on Twitter.

Arts and Aging: The Art of Photographing Older Adults

 

Photography by Jerry Friedman

Photography by Jerry Friedman

Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty. ~ Coco Chanel

One of the most poignant ways to capture the beauty of aging is the art of photography. Worldwide, many talented photographers are choosing to dedicate their time and talent portraying today’s aging society. The results are stunning and inspiring.

The photographs of ‘super centenarians’ that adorn the walls at the Centre for Elder Research continually engage and inspire visitors who are drawn in by their majestic beauty. These portraits are the work of Jerry Friedman (founder of Earth’s Elders) who journeyed around the world to photograph and record the stories of 50 individuals who have lived to be 110+ years of age.

Since 2008, blogger Ari Seth Cohen has been chronicling the stylish and eccentric older adults of New York City on his Advanced Style blog. The photos give credence to the famous Coco Channel quote that “fashion fades, only style remains the same”.

Patrícia Monteiro is a documentary photographer and photojournalist whose project Life Ever After documents a community of New York “women that live alone after losing companions, relatives or friends. To look at them is also to look at the beauty of life, that definitely does not end when you reach your 80’s.”

Based in the United Kingdom, Dr. Alex Rotas photographs the vitality of competitive older adult athletes. Her photographs of ‘masters’ athletes challenge the misconception of sedentary older adults.

Note: For copyright reasons, many photographs are not shown in the blog, however, just click on the links provided to view them.

Business of Aging: The Retirement Housing Market

file000984762020How and where older adults choose to live will have widespread implications for the different ways homes might be designed, what resources will be needed, and how communities nationwide should prepare for an aging population.
~ 2015 Merrill Lynch Retirement Study conducted in Partnership with Age Wave

Retirement often presents new housing opportunities for older adults. Retirees with financial means, no work commitment and an empty nest have the freedom to choose how and where they want to live.

According to an article in the Seattle Times “A wave of retirements among baby boomers in the coming decades will have a big impact on residential real estate, in ways that are upending some conventional assumptions.” For example, it is generally assumed that retirees that move are looking to downsize. However, “49% of retirees didn’t downsize in their last move. In fact, three in ten upsized into a larger home” according to the Merrill Lynch Study.

Unique housing options are being created that cater to specific niches in the growing older adult market.

One option gaining interest is ‘cohousing’. According to the Canadian Cohousing Network senior cohousing is defined as “a neighbourhood focused on aging well in community. Residents design and manage senior cohousing themselves relying on neighbourly mutual support (co-care) and a resident caregiver they hire as needed. Communities are designed for physical accessibility as well as financial, environmental, and social sustainability. Large, shared common facilities and individually owned small dwellings preserve privacy while valuing community.”

If you can afford the $164,000/year rent, living on a cruise ship could be another option. The cost covers a “single-occupancy seventh deck stateroom, regular and specialty restaurant meals with available lunch and dinner beverages, gratuities, nightly ballroom dancing with dance hosts and Broadway-caliber entertainment — as well as the captain’s frequent cocktail parties, movies, lectures, plus other scheduled daily activities.”

At the other extreme, there is also a demographic of older adults who choose ‘no home at all’ and prefer to travel and lead a nomadic lifestyle. An article in The New York Times entitled, Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road, profiles older adults who have chosen to make their home anything from campgrounds to vacation rentals. How We Became International Senior Gypsies In Retirement follows a couple that has been ‘home free’ since 2010.

Although the options for unique housing opportunities continues to grow, presently, the majority of retired individuals prefer to age in place. In the United States “while roughly two-thirds of retirees are likely to move at least once in retirement, the other one-third anticipates staying where they are throughout their retirement years” according to The Merrill Lynch Study.