Resident Experience

How to Encourage Residents in Your Senior Living Community to Exercise

August 22, 2022

In our latest blog post, we discussed the key role that your senior living community’s exercise program has to play in your residents’ overall well-being. Exercise has physical, intellectual, social, and emotional benefits that can improve quality of life for older adults living in long-term care

It’s important to note, however, that people only gain these benefits when they exercise regularly. Adults aged 65 and over should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic, strengthening, and balance exercises each week. That’s 30 minutes of exercise per day, 5 days a week! This is why it’s important that recreation professionals encourage residents to attend exercise programs — and keep them coming back for more. 

But what do you do if your residents just don’t want to participate? At the end of the day, it’s their decision. But there are ways that you can encourage residents to attend and actively participate in your community’s exercise programs. In this article, we’ll help you tackle this challenge by first giving you a better understanding of why your residents may not want to exercise. We go over some common barriers to participation below. Then, we provide strategies for overcoming these barriers so you can help your residents become the healthiest versions of themselves!

Common Barriers to Participation for Older Adults

Barriers to participation are factors that make it hard for people to start exercising or to do so consistently. These factors can be personal, social, or environmental. Everyone faces different barriers to participation, so it’s important to understand your residents’ individual feelings towards exercise. But your residents likely share some barriers due to their similar ages and lifestyles. Below are some of the most common barriers to participation that older adults face when it comes to exercising. You can keep these in mind when you’re planning your programs!

  • Fear of injury — older adults often worry that exercise is unsafe at their age or with their health condition. They may fear that they will injure themselves or increase their risk of falls by exercising. 
  • Lack of confidence — older adults may lack confidence in their own ability to carry out an exercise. This might be due to a past sedentary lifestyle, a recent injury, or a disability.  
  • Lack of motivation — many older adults report that they don’t have the energy or motivation to exercise. This may be because they’re not educated about the benefits they can gain. Or, they might believe that exercise is pointless because their health will inevitably decline with age.
  • Lack of support — one of the most common barriers older adults face is that they don’t have access to the facilities, instruction, and equipment they need to exercise. They also report that they don’t have a friend to exercise with. 

Fortunately, senior living communities can provide older adults with the right environment to encourage physical activity. With the help and support of recreation professionals, many of these barriers can be overcome. Here are some ways that you can address any fears and concerns your residents may have so they can get started on their fitness journeys!

Educate residents about exercise and its benefits

Before you invite your residents to join an exercise program, take some time to address their concerns through education. Start by tackling common myths about exercise for older adults that you might hear from your residents, like that they’re too old to start exercising now. Explain to them that it’s never too late to live a healthier lifestyle and that most older adults can exercise safely. 

Once you’ve cleared up these common misconceptions, educate your residents about how physical activity will benefit them. They’ll likely learn that exercise can help them improve in areas that were keeping them from exercising in the first place. For instance, exercise can lower the risk of falls and heart attacks. It can help reduce pain and manage the symptoms of many health conditions. It can even give them the energy boost they need to keep exercising!

There are many engaging ways that you can provide your residents with this information. You can invite a guest speaker to give a presentation, hand out fact sheets, or turn the topic into a trivia night. When it comes to fitness education, studies show that it’s best to keep a positive framing. You can make your residents aware of the dangers of being sedentary, but it’s more motivational to focus on the benefits of exercising.

Modify exercises for different levels of ability 

Many older adults avoid exercise because they lack confidence in their own skills and abilities. If this is the case for your residents, it’s important to show them that physical activities can be adapted to meet them where they’re at. 

To help residents build confidence, start off slowly. Encourage them to find small ways to be more active in their daily lives. Remind them that any physical activity is better than none at all. For many older adults, walking programs are one of the least intimidating ways to get into the habit of exercising. There are also many fun exercise programs like cardio drumming, tai chi, and yoga that can be adapted to a seated position. Making exercises accessible for your residents builds trust that their needs will be accommodated, which will boost their confidence about coming back for another class.

Another tip is to create multiple programs for different fitness levels. Residents can lose motivation if they perceive an exercise to be too hard or too easy. You’ll likely need to have a few fitness programs available to represent everybody!

Set goals with residents that are meaningful to them

Goal-setting can be a powerful motivator for physical activity. For younger adults, the decision to start a new exercise regime is often made with a goal in mind. Someone might train to eventually run a marathon or compete in a triathlon, for example.  They’re motivated to exercise in the present because they’re focused on achieving a goal in the future. 

While younger adults are motivated by future goals, research suggests that older adults focus on activities they find rewarding in the present. They would rather spend their time on something immediately enjoyable, rather than on something with long-term rewards. This can mean that as we age, our motivation to exercise can start to decrease.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t set goals with your residents, though! If your residents don’t have a long-term fitness goal in mind, you can focus on how exercise will help them maintain their health so they can keep doing what they love now. Work with your residents to connect physical activity to what’s most important to them. This could be being able to play with their grandchildren or continue a favourite activity, like gardening. You can also explain that being fit will help them perform daily activities so they can stay independent. Research shows that older adults highly value their independence and connect it to their quality of life, so it can be a powerful motivator.  

Exercise in a supportive group environment

Senior living communities can provide older adults with everything they need to be active. Residents gain access to a place to exercise, equipment, and instructors — allowing them to overcome some of the most common barriers to participation right away!

They also gain access to a community that will support them and celebrate their successes. Exercising as a group has the benefit of offering immediate social rewards to your residents. This can help keep them motivated as they work towards achieving the long-term benefits of regular physical activity. Even if your residents remain skeptical about the value of exercise, they may still attend the program to meet new people or to accompany a friend.

Encourage your residents to be supportive of each other, no matter their skill and ability level. This works best in noncompetitive environments where residents are working towards a shared goal, like a fall prevention program. With friends nearby to encourage them, your residents will be more likely to stick with the program. 

Your senior living community’s recreation program plays an important role in your residents’ overall health and well-being. Regular physical activity promotes healthy aging and allows your residents to gain the long-term benefits of exercise. We hope that these tips will help you overcome barriers to participation and boost your exercise program attendance!

Katie Stewart

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.

Holly Mathias

Holly is a member of Welbi’s Marketing team! She has a background in communications and marketing, and is a compassionate individual who loves team work, story telling, and wellness.

Wendy Riopelle

Wendy is a student in the Honours BA in English program at the University of Ottawa, where she has won numerous awards for her writing.

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