An Inside Job…
Caring for your aging loved one is an inside job, for the most part. Usually, by the time they need us to care for them, they are dependent on walkers, scooters, or wheelchairs. At this stage, it’s rare that we get to enjoy the pleasure of strolling with them in the park, sitting on the beach or even in the back yard for that matter. Sadly, our loved ones are often confined to their home, room, chair, or bed. This sedentary lifestyle can quickly lead to loss of muscle tone and mobility. And when they aren’t moving bigger problems can arise, leading to more work for the caregiver and more medical bills. We all know how fast medical bills can stack up, and even though there is financial help available for caregivers, keeping your loved one healthy and mobile, for as long as possible, is the number one goal. We want to see them thrive and be happy for many years to come, so let’s explore some helpful exercises that you can do together to get them moving in the right direction.
How Can You Help Keep Them Moving?
Everyone loves to have a workout buddy (even Jesus loved walking with his disciples) and your loved one is no different. For those who are able, walking is a great exercise that keeps our muscles toned and improves circulation. If the weather permits, take your loved one for a short walk outdoors, it’s great for their physical and mental health, and yours too. For those who are not able to walk, here are some great exercises that you can do with them to help slow down further immobility. These exercises will help your loved one continue to do simple tasks that tend to become more difficult with age, like getting up and down from a chair or opening a jar.
3 Exercises To Increase Muscle Tone
Before beginning any exercise, it’s always best to check with your physician, and don’t forget to stretch! Because the elderly are often confined to a chair or bed, stretching may be difficult. Massaging the area that you will have them exercise is another great way to warm up the muscles and kick start their circulation. If you can swing it, have someone who is qualified come to provide in-home therapeutic massage before doing the exercises.
Seated Leg Extensions: This exercise will strengthen the quadriceps which will aid your loved one with standing up, sitting down, and transferring.
Begin seated with your feet together. Slowly extend your right leg by raising the right foot. Hold this position for 4-6 seconds and release the leg slowly. Then, slowly extend your left leg by raising the left foot. Hold this position for 4-6 seconds and release the leg slowly. Do 4-6 reps with each leg. As your strength increases, go ahead and increase the duration and the reps of each extension. This process can take time and is totally dependent on the individual. After your loved one is able to hold this position for 10 seconds with 10 reps, go ahead and add a small leg weight to the ankle for more resistance, and start from the beginning.
Arm Raises: This exercise will strengthen the shoulders and enable your loved one to push up from a chair and provide more stability when using a walker.
Begin seated (or standing) with your arms at your side. Slowly lift straight arms out to the side, raising them only as high as the shoulder. Hold this position for 4-6 seconds and then slowly release your arms down to your side. Repeat this movement 4-6 times, each time slowly releasing the arms. As this gets easier, increase the duration and reps of this exercise to 10 seconds and 10 reps. Again, the speed in which this process will take depends on individual strength. Once you are able to hold this position for 10 seconds at 10 reps, start back at the beginning, holding a small dumbbell or a can of soup in each hand with your palms down.
Ball Squeeze: This exercise will strengthen the hands and fingers to make turning a key and opening a jar or pill bottle easier.
This exercise is easy to do and you can do it anywhere. Simply sit in a comfortable chair, grasp a small ball (tennis ball or something similar) in the palm of your hand, and then slowly squeeze the ball as if your hand is squeezing through Play-Doh. Hold the fully-squeezed position for up to five seconds and then release. Switch to the other hand and repeat the exercise again. Do 4-6 reps each hand, increasing to 10 reps as strength increases.
These exercises can be done three to four times a week. Feel free to increase the intensity or reps to match individual strengths and capabilities, as long as there is no symptoms of strain or pain. And don’t forget to make this fun! Put on some good music and enjoy this special time with your loved one. Caregiving is rewarding, and you are making a difference.
Kristen Heller is a passionate writer, teacher, and mother to a wonderful son. When free time presents itself, you can find her tackling her lifelong goal of learning the piano.