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You and Your Aging Parent: Getting Fit Together

Physical activity is good for you. You know this as a caregiver. What about your aging parent whom you help on a regular basis? Does he or she know that physical activity can extend lives considerably?

If you are in great shape and physically fit, your loved one should take a page from your book. If not, then the two of you need to consider what physical activity can mean for you.

It can mean your loved one can stand up from a chair unassisted. He or she can take a brisk walk in the park. Your loved one is more resistant to falling and breaking bones. All of these things and more are possible with the right game plan.

If your parent is serious about starting physical activity, here’s what to do. Have him or her visit the doctor to discuss any current ailments or possible hazards, like chest pain, blood clots, or an infection.

Exercise does not have to be training for a marathon. It should involve stretching, walking, balancing and strength training—like lifting a small set of hand weights. You can help by joining your loved one in exercising and keeping an eye on his or her progress.

There are thousands of ways to be active—including gardening, dancing, or walking, just to name a few. You need your loved one to find something he or she likes to do and something that meets these criteria, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Have your loved one start slowly and build up endurance. Make sure he or she breathes properly—holding one’s breath is not a good practice in exercising, but you’d be surprised how people can forget to breathe while focusing.

Your parent needs to have 30 minutes of activity daily that makes him or her breathe hard for endurance. He or she doesn’t have to go all out for 30 minutes at a time, but the goal should be to exercise in ten minute increments.

Your parent or parents should strength train—even if that is only supporting one’s own weight through brisk walking. Strong muscles equal independence. Your loved one should also work on balance—whether standing on one foot or walking heel to toe—in order to prevent falls. Finally, he or she should stretch often to improve flexibility and to keep muscles from getting strained or pulled.

Resource: National Institute of Health