WHY HAVE WE FAILED? Activity level is directly related to quality of life for those older. But often we have difficulty motivating these folks to become more active. Why is it so hard? What's the solution?
"My 83 year old aunt has two artificial hips, an artificial shoulder and several fused vertebrae in her spine ... She complains constantly of being in pain, claims she would do anything to not be in pain, except she won't do anything ... Doctors have tried to get her to diet and exercise. She won't. She has been told over and over that if she would exercise, even just walk, she would get better and not hurt as much, she will be stronger, healthier, and have better balance. Her doctor even recently offered her physical therapy to get her started. She refused ... I don't know why she won't do anything to help herself. I do know she has a huge fear of falling, partly because she has been falling recently."
In my observation, 90% of those over 75 sit way too much, with many as resistant to exercise as this poor dear. In deciding to be inactive, elders make it much more likely that their health will decline and that they will be in even more pain. Inactivity is as bad for your health as smoking or obesity, especially for those older. Exercise is the most effective treatment for almost all the problems we encounter as we age. Yet 90% of those affected choose not to.
We have failed! Just as the fitness craze that began in the 1980s has failed as is obvious by the alarmingly increasing obesity rate. Fitness and health professionals all know the value of exercise. More articles are written about the benefits than perhaps any other health subject. Why aren't our efforts successful?
But, it is a drop in the bucket.
Why are people so resistant?
- We believe the myths about aging: For most, aging is a process of going downhill and there's nothing we can do to prevent it: a very potent message that is communicated constantly throughout our society. The message is only true if you do nothing about it.
- We don't like being told what to do: We can be very stubborn about people telling us what we should do, especially in regard to exercise. The word itself inspires revolt.
- We let our feelings determine what we do: Our own emotional reaction determines whether we exercise or not, rather than our good sense. Emotion turns out to be a poor indicator of what is wise.
- We don't like efforting: We all love to take a break, even if doing so makes us tired and sluggish.
My writings on the subject can really help (click on the green links to read the full article):
- Ten effects of inactivity: Doing nothing makes us weaker, prone to leg cramps, much more likely to fall and above all it changes who we think we are and what we think we are capable of doing.
- Thirteen benefits of consistent exercise: The most important benefit: a consistent exercise regimen reduces falls exponentially.
- Our brain generates messages particularly about exercising that we best take no notice of. Be prepared to ignore the reasons not to exercise and expect that you will not want to. Do it anyway.
- Follow the same reasoning we use when we care for our car. If you car mechanic said that changing the engine oil in your car routinely would extend the life of your car significantly, would you take his advice or would you insist that it didn't really apply to your car? Well when the subject is exercise all reason goes out the door. Take as good care of your own health as your car's.
- We don't experience the side effects of extended sitting until we go to move and then we think we are stiff because we are getting old. When we go to stand up after sitting and we feel stiff, it is not because we are old. It is because we sat too long.
- We don't connect with exercising because: a) it takes effort and b) the effort doesn't pay off for some time. So we associate discomfort with it instead.
- This delay of the consequences of inaction as well as the delay in experiencing the benefits of exercise make it even more necessary for us to use mind over matter.
How can we change our culture to recognize how overwhelmingly beneficial exercise is in determining our quality of life as we age?
- Our society should stop treating older people as if they are children, especially those who work in the fitness and health industries. People respond the way they are treated. My background teaching memory care residents showed me that the more you explain, the more people listened and were able to do, even those severely impaired.
- Stop believing in the myths of aging in your ideas about yourself or about those older. Being older does not mean going down hill.
- We need to take seriously that consistent exercise is the very best approach to take to improve health and well being as we age. It is often the best prescription for many chronic conditions and it offers huge benefits in the reduction of pain, depression and incidence of falls. It is frequently preferable to medication and has few side effects.
- Medical professionals should recommend exercise FAR more than they currently do. Exercise should take as large a role in a medical practitioner's treatment plan as pharmaceuticals. Currently exercise is timidly recommended by our doctors if at all. Much more power needs to be placed behind the recommendation. Do your older patients take their pills? Exercise should be prescribed as assertively.
- Those living in senior residences should be FAR more encouraged to participate in classes. Major campaigns to activate those who struggle need to take place.
- Older people need to be introduced to exercise in a supportive manner. Do the exercises and attend the classes alongside them for the first 3 weeks. If you are not available, hire someone else with that specific goal. Help them do the exercises if needed. Remind them between classes of important lessons like standing straight with head back, looking where they are going instead of down at the ground, picking their feet up when they walk.
Anyone older who is afraid of falling would benefit directly not only by becoming more active, but by taking classes dedicated to helping you improve your balance. Building Better Balance offers you exactly that and much more, and in the comfort of your own home. These DVDs are so thorough that even only watching them will be well worth the money spent to purchase them.