By Dr. Andrew Allen
In our highly connected, information driven world there are thousands of health and wellness apps and programs out on the market with a wide range of services and products. These apps and programs are designed to help us lead happier, healthier and more productive lives. From brain fitness, stress reduction and better sleep to diets, eating plans and 100s of different workouts. If information was all it took, we should be the healthiest society in our country’s history, and yet we are not. With all of the knowledge that we have at our fingertips, chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis, obesity, hypertension and diabetes are on the rise. There is a mental health crisis within all age groups that is overwhelming the healthcare providers of our country. Not to mention the Covid pandemic that continues to dominate our country’s daily landscape with all of its health and political impacts at the forefront of decision making for our society. With the capabilities of forensic marketing today, we see ads for all of these services and products continuously. We are bombarded with anything we have viewed previously, shopped for, even discussed with others, and we have grown numb to viewing the endless possibilities and information that is available to us.
However, what about our less connected seniors? How will they get their health and wellness information? If not through their own connection to the internet, then whose? Although there are many of our seniors who have become technologically savvy, a large percentage of our senior population will have this type of information and technology disseminated to them through their children, caregivers and healthcare providers. Now that we have conveyed the necessary information to our seniors, we need to get them involved in healthier lifestyles and exercise programs or activities.
Unfortunately, the issue of seniors engaging in regular exercise or activities is quite a large problem to overcome. There are clear, objective reasons for our senior population to be hesitant when considering participation in exercise programs such as chronic illness, physical impairments, cardiovascular risks, depression or anxiety and joint pain to name a few. However many of the major barriers to seniors engaging in exercise programs are self perceived and their limited participation in regular exercise and health related activities, for whatever reason, results in the declining health of the seniors, loss of their independence and greater healthcare costs in the end.
Some of the self perceived hurdles to overcome are body image issues or embarrassment to work out publicly, fear of failure at an activity, fear of injury while participating, they do not have the proper equipment, a general lack of motivation to engage, lack of social support and lack of knowledge about the activity. Many of these factors can be overcome through providing access to an environment in which these seniors can participate safely, with others who are in their social group.
Where a senior lives will distinctly affect their involvement in activities and exercise programs. When living independently, the individual will need to be more self-driven and obtain the support of their children or caregivers. While the senior who lives in an assisted living facility will need to have their need for physical exercise and brain fitness supported and implemented by the facility and the staff.
This is where the use of technology can help to generate a safe, social environment for the seniors to exercise daily with their peers, under the guidance of knowledgeable staff members and with the proper equipment to engage in the activities or exercise program. Use of online or on demand exercise programs and brain fitness regimes can be easily repeated throughout the day and the week, in order to meet anyone’s schedule. This way, certain social groups can have fun on their own time and the program is kept interesting by the company that provides the online programs. It will also generate routine for the participants during their days who will then begin to look forward to the exercise sessions at the facility. Other tools that can be employed to generate fun competitions during such classes would be the use of fitness trackers that demonstrate heart rate, steps per day, and calories burned. These can be used in low impact or seated activities for the less mobile people or in a Silver Sneakers situation for the more independent crowd.
Regardless of the setting, the effort to get the senior population involved in regular exercise programs is very important for their physical and mental health. Improvements in strength, balance and endurance can help reduce chronic pain and will increase their independence. Whereas socialization and physical activity will also help improve their mental health. There is no down side for the senior population when promoting exercise and it can be a very rewarding experience for us as their caregivers as well.