How Technology Can Support Senior Exercise and Physical Activity

Dr. Jim Dan

Dr. Jim Dan, MD, geriatric clinical advisor

Exercise plays a key role in health and wellness for all populations, but it’s particularly important for seniors to find ways to stay active. In addition to general best practices, senior care communities can also use technology to help promote exercise and physical activity.

The Value of Encouraging Exercise

Exercise can have many important effects on senior health and wellness. Jim Dan, MD, geriatric clinical advisor and member of the Senior Helpers Board of Directors, explains that regular aerobic activity – an activity that increases the heart and respiratory rate – is incredibly important for senior physical and mental wellbeing.

Activities like walking, cycling, and swimming are all examples of aerobic activities. “Gardening, stretching exercises, and other recreational activities can be aerobic as well,” he explains. “All of these activities engage the mind and help keep seniors alert and sharp, while also helping to improve conditioning, strength, and mobility.”

Melinda Hughes, founder of The Strength Shoppe, explains that while exercise is highly valuable for seniors, there are challenges to implementing it in senior care settings. “The staff of a senior care facility may not be qualified to oversee fitness, especially senior physical fitness,” she explains. “Improper physical fitness can easily result in injury, which, in addition to the pain and suffering experienced by the senior, could cost both the senior and the facility a significant amount of money and/or resources.”

Cassandra Timmenga

Cassandra Timmenga, Symmetrix Exercise & Rehab

Focusing on proper exercise techniques can help to avoid these injuries. Hughes notes that exercise should safely increase muscle strength and bone density, enhance balance, and improve cardiovascular health, which can in turn help to prevent injuries.

Exercise has several other important benefits. According to Cassandra Timmenga, a kinesiologist at Symmetrix Exercise & Rehab, physical activity can prolong functional independence in seniors. It promotes valuable social interaction, and also promotes healthy aging by limiting the development of chronic disease, which relates to better cognitive function.

Dr. Dan explains that when it comes to aerobic activity, striving for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week are a good rule of thumb. However, it’s important to do make a plan to do regular activity that is doctor-approved for the resident.

The Benefits of Using Technology

Hughes uses specialized MedX physical therapy machines, which she notes are safer for seniors. “The machines are designed to work with the strength curve of the muscle, so we can easily and thoroughly challenge the muscle, and the machines enhance safety by reducing the ability to sustain an injury by falling out of proper form and alignment.

Timmenga explains that seniors may benefit from using technology like stationary recumbent bikes, Wii Fit, and online video exercise classes. She notes that this technology is interactive and fun, and seniors can exercise without leaving their chair or the facility.

How to Best Introduce Technology to Support Exercise

While technology can be helpful in supporting exercise for seniors, Hughes cautions that it can carry risks, too. “Make sure someone qualified is supervising the exercise,” she advises. “Some of the latest forms of technology in exercise may be too dangerous for seniors, especially those who have never exercised and those who have serious medical conditions or injuries. Technology is not as important as proper supervision to ensure safety.”

Timmenga recommends that facilities start to incorporate new technology in small doses. “Purchase or rent technology and incorporate it into the weekly activities schedule to help residents get used to it,” she suggests. “Allot extra time for teaching residents how to use the technology. Be patient and don’t be scared to try something new!”

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