Many of us care for and worry about the health of family members who are older than we are. I’m fortunate that my mother is in excellent health, but the key to preventive health is not just to treat active health conditions, but to anticipate possible future issues.
I’ve seen many patients, family members and family members of friends succumb to sudden and preventable medical emergencies like a fall that resulted in a hip fracture, which then led to other complications.
My mom is physically active and walks around 2 miles every morning and does a steady routine of body weight exercises and stretches. At her age she is fitter and healthier than most of her friends. However I have noticed that when she steps onto curbs or goes up and down stairs, she is not completely steady.
Many of us may chalk that up to “natural aging,” but I would not. I’ve had patients of all ages improve balance, strength and walking speed which in turn increased their energy, independence and overall quality of life.
In fact, did you know leg strength has been shown in multiple studies to be a top predictor for how well you age in the future? Yet so many of us spend a large part of of our day sitting. So what did I do for my mom?
I signed her up at a local gym and got her a package of personal training sessions with a trainer who I made sure understood the “aging body” well. I actually joined her first session to make sure the trainer wasn’t putting my Mom at risk and fortunately the trainer I found is a gem!
If you have a parent or someone you love and you worry about falls or them losing their independence in the future, I strongly suggest they sign up with an experienced trainer or join a supervised class designed for seniors.
Their daily walks and stretches are not enough. Neither is using an exercise machine like an elliptical or a stationary cycle which may be good for cardio, but does little to develop balance and functional leg strength.
If they are reluctant, remind them how they used to drag you to music lessons, tutoring or some other activity when you were young, which benefited them later. It’s payback time now as we try to motivate our own parents and loved ones to take better care of their own health.
A few early warning signs to watch for that can predict problems in the future.
- A reduction in walking speed
- Unsteadiness during walking
- Difficulty going up and down stairs (using the handrails or having to pause after each step)
- Use of excessive arm strength when getting out of a chair to compensate for weak legs
- Inability to sit on the floor or get up from the floor even when using hands and arms
If you see any of these signs, don’t wait for something tragic to happen. Take charge right now. I did a YouTube video on squatting a while back with some modifications at the end for seniors which you can find below and I also discussed the top exercises to improve athletic performance and reduce injury.
Be sure to pay attention to protein intake too which most of my patients of all ages are under consuming. We need to consume sufficient protein to help retain and strengthen muscle and I wrote about this in detail here.
I’ve also noticed seniors in other countries like India often have a very fatalistic outlook on life as they age. They spend more time sitting, dependent on hired help and family members for assistance.
As a result, they become physically weak, emotionally depressed, and eventually chronically ill. Pride prevents them from even stepping outside the house, so they also become socially isolated.
This creates stress for all family members. They need an extra nudge or even a firm push to make sure they improve leg strength and balance so they can maintain independence and optimal overall health.
I’ve seen patients in their 70s and 80s make tremendous improvements in leg strength and balance. We all have the genetic potential to thrive independently until the end of our lives.
Have you had any successes or challenges in motivating seniors in your life to make healthy changes? Please share by replying to this blog post. I’d love to learn more.
If you enjoyed reading this article, be sure to check out our Healthy Aging 101 blog post.
Author Bio: Dr.Ronesh Sinha is author of the best-selling book, The South Asian Health Solution. His work with Asian Indians and diverse populations in Silicon Valley to reverse diabetes and chronic health conditions has been featured on the cover of Fortune Magazine and the LA Times. He blogs at culturalhealthsolutions.com where he offers cutting edge content and online wellness programs to help readers achieve their health goals.