Why Physical Activity is Important to Older Adults
The benefits that an older adult can gain from physical activity will largely depend on their starting point, and the degree of effort which they are willing to put into an exercise program. The choice of physical activity should be matched with the individual’s interest, needs and their abilities. The individual will move and participate in their own way. Each and every person should have the opportunity to get actively involved in community programs, fitness and health initiatives. The role of physical activity providers in creating a welcoming and safe environment to accommodate older adults cannot be understated.
According to the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 50 percent. Exercise protects against Alzheimer's and other types of dementia by stimulating the brain's ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones.
Teaching and Communication Techniques for Physical Activity Leaders
- Create a welcoming environment – customer service focus;
- Ask the individual what their needs and interests are – never assume;
- Reminder: privacy/disclosure policies ensure individuals share information at their discretion and comfort;
- An individual’s limited mobility could have been the result of an accident, injury, chronic disease or progressive condition – be patient and supportive;
- Focus on what the individual can do rather than what they cannot;
- Think safety first;
- Encourage the individual to consult with a medical professional prior to starting a physical activity program;
- Ensure staff and volunteers receive adequate training to be able to deliver quality customer service, gain equipment knowledge/use and learn about available resources – on/off-site. Consult with resource agencies with expertise in areas of inclusive physical activity;
- Offer assistance and support as required or when asked;
- Reminder – do not touch an individual or their assistive device or service animal without their consent;
- When leading activities outdoors, ensure participants wear sun screen, protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat because certain medications may make a person more susceptible to sun burn;
- Provide a facility without barriers to participation, thus creating access to the venue, equipment or activity (this could include: accessible parking spaces, ramp access or flat access to the front door, create space for easy movement and participation, remove obstacles in hallways – signage, garbage/recycling bins, automatic or wide frame doorways to enter/exit);
- Allocate additional staff or volunteers to the area where the participant will be taking part in an activity, where possible;
- Ask first, do not assume that the individual needs or would like help;
- Avoid slippery surfaces and raised obstructions;
- As with every individual, other considerations should be discussed (i.e. pain, fatigue and the individual’s expectations).
Modifying Leisure, Sport and Recreation Activities
- Match the individual with activities which meet their needs and abilities. Some individuals may be able to swim a mile or engage in a vigorous aerobics class, while for others, a slow walk may be enough;
- Develop activities at the level of the individual, focusing on endurance, balance, strength and flexibility. Enhancing these areas can be helpful with everyday activities: i.e., pushing grandchildren on swings, carrying a full laundry basket, walking up and down stairs, or bending to tie shoes;
- If necessary and available, provide adapted equipment;
- Make it interesting – exercise and every day activities, such as gardening or walking a dog, can easily go together;
- Make it fun – having fun and socializing are important benefits to physical activity experienced by people who are active;
More About Aging
What is Aging?
Aging is a term which describes the process that encompasses a decline in productivity, performance and health over time. As we age, we inevitably become frailer, susceptible to age-related degenerative disease, and more vulnerable to acquiring a disability. Increased physical activity makes sense for everyone but especially in the context of an aging population of Canadians with a disability.
In 2017, Statistics Canada data revealed that 22% of Canadians reported having a disability and 38% of Canadians aged 65 an older had at least one disability. Data collected indicates that as Canadians age, the prevalence of disability increases. By 2026, it is estimated that the majority of Canadians with a disability will be aged 65 or older.
Impact of Aging
Age is an inevitable stage of life which effects each and every one of us. Physical activity can go a long way towards slowing the decline that is associated with age, and to providing an individual with the tools to manage the aging process. Regardless of their physical ability or degree of health, older adults can benefit a great deal from regular physical activity. Even if an individual has difficulty with standing or walking, they can benefit through exercise. These individuals have more to lose from being sedentary.
Some of the common factors that are associated with aging, and which regular exercise can help to alleviate, include:
- The decline of physical strength and fitness;
- Increased vulnerability to illness;
- Compromised balance;
- Susceptibility to diseases including diabetes, heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and osteoporosis;
- Feelings of depression, low mood, negative self-esteem, and reduced cognitive function.
Useful Information About Aging
- The Canadian population is aging. Seniors are the demographic that is growing most quickly. The number of Canadians aged 65 or older is expected to double over the next 25 years. By 2061 it is projected that there will be 12 million seniors in Canada;
- Aging can limit or restrict a person's physical mobility and motivation to be active. A lack of mobility is among the leading types of disability reported;
- Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations for Canadians aged 65 years and older. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of Canadian seniors experience at least one fall each year, with falls often causing disability, loss of independence or even death;
- Statistics Canada reported in 2013 that only 1 in 5 adult and older adult Canadians achieve the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, based on the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines;
- With a population that is growing older, it is important to consider all ages and abilities when planning for inclusive healthy active living programs.
Check with your local municipality for physical activity programs designed specifically for older adults.
Active Aging Canada - www.activeagingcanada.ca
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults - www.csepguidelines.ca/adults-65/
Physical Activity Toolkit for Older Adults - www.seniorsnl.ca/app/uploads/2018/05/Older-Adult-Physical-Activity-Toolkit.pdf
National Institute on Aging: Exercise and Physical Activity - www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-physical-activity
Helping Canadians with Disability/Chronic Disease Get Physically Active
For Canadians with a disability, regular physical activity may be even more important than it is for the rest of the population. For a person with a disability, an active lifestyle can open doors to increased health, social inclusion and self-empowerment - doors which might otherwise remain closed. Access to physical activity can eliminate the likelihood of acquiring secondary health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Being active builds resiliency and can provide an all-important outlet for a person with a disability.
This project would not have been possible without the expertise of our partners. ALACD would like to sincerely thank these organizations for working with us to develop this resource: the Ontario Blind Sports Association, Variety Village, the National Network for Mental Health, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.