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Safe exercise in later life expands horizons

Safe exercise in later life expands horizons
Our friend Kevin Morgan (aka FitOldDog) tells us how his training injury and other health issues, including an abdominal aortic aneurysm, led him to leave his career in science to set up Old Dogs in Training LLC. He shares his advice for exercise in later life and talks about ways to improve your parent’s mind and body awareness.

My mother died recently, as she approached the age of 96, having enjoyed a long and healthy life. Her last 4 years were spent under the care of my younger sister, Marian, whose physical health, strength and love for our mum made her a great carer. My sister’s efforts and my financial support were both critical for mum’s wellbeing in the last few years of her life. Her independent spirit, energetic activity level, and relaxed movements all contributed to her overall fitness which brings me to an important topic as our parents age – optimising the way they move.

Effective body movement skills can help minimise your parent’s risk of injury whilst extending their mobility into old age. Ensuring, to the best of your ability, that your parent stays fit, healthy and able as they age will help you, your family and inevitably your bank balance in the long run. If your parent keeps fit it’s likely that they’ll keep physical and financial dependency at bay as far into the future as possible.

Enjoy an independent and interdependent life for happy old age

Not too long ago I celebrated my 70th birthday, which many would say is a feat in itself and I’ve come this far due to Ironman training. For those of you who don’t know what the Ironman triathlon involves, which may be most, it combines a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon, all in one day! I’m not saying that your parent should be participating in a race as extreme as this, but I strongly encourage increased physical activity in later life.

If I hadn’t raced the Ironman in 2010, which lead to my self-diagnosis of a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here today. In my case my continued ability to undertake extreme physical tasks such as this owes much, I believe, to my on-going study of the Feldenkrais Method, which combines learning and movement in order to heighten your awareness of your body.

Your own parent’s posture, movement skills, flexibility and breathing all contribute to their level of mobility and a few simple daily exercises could ease pain and correct motions likely to cause repetitive strain on an elderly body. To find a Feldenkrais teacher near you, or your parent, click here.

Find the root cause to find the cure

It’s essential to find the root cause of an injury in order to establish a cure as the pain is often remote from the source of the problem. As your parent ages it can be harder for them to climb stairs, walk to the shops, stand up from a chair and even get out of bed in the morning. Their aches and pains may increase, whilst a deep sleep can become increasingly elusive.

Many of our parents will have to contend with serious medical treatments in later life, including chemotherapy and surgery. Such experiences are challenging in their own right, and so it will help your parents if they stay in tip-top condition in preparation for such experiences as they get older. If your parent has “trained” and is ready for a “race”, or difficult medical treatment, the chances are better that they, and you, will enjoy a successful outcome.

Top tips for exercise in later life

  • Learn to move smarter not harder. Help your parent to know their limits and understand ways to conserve energy. They don’t need to do everything they once did.
  • Aim to think young. Your parent doesn’t have to move “like an old person”. A positive mental attitude can help to stay young longer.
  • Set realistic goals. Make sure your parent sets reachable goals each day that are part of a long term plan.
  • Try to avoid injury. A fall for an elderly parent can cause mental and physical harm. A fear of falling may develop, which can lead to your parent being housebound if you don’t encourage them to get out and about.
  • Be flexible. Exercises that improve flexibility, balance and symmetry should be at the top of your parent’s list in order to stay mobile in later life and avoid injury.
  • Time to rest. Tiredness plays a role in injury risk as your parent ages. Allowing them a chance to rest and get away from the routine of daily life can stave off such risks.
  • Enjoy life. It’s helpful to find activities they enjoy that encourage them keep fit. Swimming and gentle walks are a good place to start.
  • Mind games. Your parent needs to be mentally as well as physically challenged. If your parent enjoys crosswords, Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles then these are a winner.
  • Courage. When your parent gets older, things they once did fearlessly may now cause instant dread. Understand that it takes courage to keep going and being elderly doesn’t mean giving up the ghost.

Inspiration and support

A year after my aortic surgery I became the first person in the world to complete an Ironman-distance triathlon with an abdominal aortic aneurysm stent graft. If your parent is to lead a full life, freedom of movement is key, as is your support. I’ve been told that my story has inspired others to keep going and I hope that you will be the inspiration for your parents.

Thanks to my mum for encouraging me to live a life of independence combined with a love of learning, and thanks to my sister, Marian, for looking after mum for those critical four years. I know it wasn’t easy.

So, help your parent to live their life bravely, wisely and completely. You won’t regret it.

Kevin Morgan (@FitOldDog) writes a health and wellbeing blog in his spare time whilst he trains for Ironman races. Kevin has also produced 9 optimal body movement videos, an aortic surgery recovery guide and a program of safe exercise for better health in later life.

Do you have concerns about your parent’s mobility in later life? Perhaps you have set techniques that have worked for you? Let us know with a comment below.

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