Exercise can be beneficial to anyone, regardless of age. In fact, older adults are one group that has much to gain from physical activity, especially for those living in long-term care. Exercise can help manage symptoms of conditions that become more common with age. It can prevent falls and make it easier for residents to perform daily activities. Overall, physical activity promotes resident independence and improves quality of life.
Residents in LTC often have complex health needs that make it difficult for them to exercise on their own, however. That’s where recreation professionals come in. Recreation professionals have an important role to play in helping residents exercise safely and consistently, so they can start seeing the benefits.
In this article, we go over the ways that your community’s exercise program can promote resident well-being. You’re probably already aware of the physical benefits of exercise. But did you know that it can encourage intellectual, social, and emotional health as well? Read on to see why exercise has a place in any care plan designed to address the needs of the whole person.
Some residents may have health conditions that, in their view, prevent them from exercising. But regular physical activity can actually help people manage many chronic conditions. It can improve pain and functioning for residents with arthritis. It can also lower the risk of nerve damage and heart disease for residents with diabetes. Staying active helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis and promotes good cardiovascular health.
As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass. Exercises that target strength, balance, and flexibility are important for reducing the risk of falls. Building up strength also helps older adults in their day-to-day activities, enabling them to be more independent.
As people are living longer, the number of people affected by cognitive decline is increasing. Cognitive decline can affect memory, attention span, language, and psychomotor skills. It can also progress to dementia if risk factors are not addressed. Currently, 90% of Ontario LTC residents have some form of cognitive impairment, and 64% are diagnosed with dementia.
Studies show that there is a reduced risk of cognitive decline in those who exercise daily compared to those who exercise only occasionally. For those who are already experiencing impairments, there are still benefits to be gained. Exercise has been shown to slow down existing cognitive decline and the onset of dementia.
Exercise can also help prevent health conditions that are risk factors for cognitive decline. Hypertension, high cholesterol, high BMI, and diabetes have all been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline. Cardiovascular problems have been found to be a risk factor for dementia.
Exercising as a group can have surprising social benefits for seniors. In fact, in some studies, older adults viewed socialization — rather than health improvements — as the main benefit of their exercise class.
Group exercises can help prevent senior isolation and loneliness. They provide residents with an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. The group can also offer encouragement and support as residents challenge themselves to improve their health together. Social support is proven to be integral to our overall well-being. It can also help residents stay motivated so they’ll keep exercising!
Exercise is known for producing feel-good hormones. In the general population, frequent physical activity is associated with lower perceptions of loneliness, lower levels of anxiety, and decreased depression. But it can have an even more important role to play in the wellbeing of LTC residents, who are often at risk of depression and loneliness.
Exercise promotes independence, which older adults commonly associate with a higher quality of life. Increased independence and mobility allows older adults to keep doing what’s most important to them for as long as possible. This can mean continuing a life-long hobby, visiting friends and family, and staying connected to the wider community.
When residents are more independent, they have a greater sense of control over their lives. This in turn improves self-confidence. As residents gain confidence and self-worth, they’ll likely become more motivated to exercise — so they’ll keep getting the benefits.
Your community’s exercise programs play an important role in your residents’ overall health and wellbeing. As shown, exercise can help residents prevent falls and reduce pain. It can improve their mental and emotional health, and help them stay independent and connected to their community. Since LTC residents may require additional assistance to exercise, recreation professionals play a vital part in helping residents stay active.
The benefits listed in this article only apply when exercise is done consistently, however. That’s why it’s important for recreation professionals to encourage residents to attend programs on a regular basis. In our next article, we’ll be giving you some tips for boosting your exercise program attendance. To learn more about how you can improve resident well-being through your programming, check out our blog on the 7 Dimensions of Wellness!
Wendy studies English Language and Literature at the University of Ottawa, where she has won numerous awards for her writing.
Katie is a member of Welbi’s Customer Experience team! She has a background in communications and recreation and is passionate about older adults, exercise, coffee and people.
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