Taking exercise without realising it – finding opportunities in everyday activities…

EXERCISE helps older people to maintain health, mental activity and reduces the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and heart conditions.

But a survey of older people receiving community care, carried out at Curtin University by exercise scientist and researcher, Dr Elissa Burton shows that many older people have little interest in going to a gym.

“They preferred to get their exercise doing household chores, gardening or going for walks,” she said. “That probably applies to most people in the older age group, whether living at home with or without services”.

After an injury or illness, physiotherapists often prescribe structured exercises that target the injured area but once the injury has healed, older people often disregard them and return to their usual routines, which are often not very active.

However, all is not lost. There are ways of making household chores and gardening effective as a way of improving strength and balance.

“Any exercise is valuable if you have been doing nothing.”

“When you are doing the dishes or working round the house, try standing on one leg for (say) 20 seconds. Then change to the other leg. Find something like a benchtop to hold on to at first then repeat, without holding on, as you get better.

“Weights are important for maintaining strength. Pulling a resistance elastic band several times a day give the same exercise as lifting weights, or lift the washing basket from the knees, not the back.

Also practise getting up from a chair or the toilet without using your hands or avoid grabbing hold of a bar if you can.

“Many older people find that difficult. If you can get up and sit down several times a day it can compound over time to have a good effect, but the key is you need to keep doing it.

“Hanging out the washing is another opportunity to exercise. So long as it is safe, try standing on tip toe when pegging out clothes.”

“It is good to undertake a mix of the things you enjoy when exercising. Tai chi is good for balance and lawn bowls provides good gentle exercise.

“You need to keep doing it, so you don’t lose it. Try to keep active every day.

“Younger people with older parents can help by suggesting going for a walk when visiting them, perhaps then having coffee in a local café. Get them doing things that they enjoy. Socialising is great but being active when socialising is even better.

“Gardening can also be useful exercise. Weeding is good as it involves getting up and down and bending from the knees. Being able to get up and down from the ground is a task we don’t think about, but it really is important and builds great strength.

“Garden jobs such as dead heading roses is not particularly active and provides less exercise than walking. To gain benefits from gardening you need to lift things and get up and down multiple times to replace strength and balance exercises.”

“But do not try to do too much at once. People who have been inactive for much of their lives need to start slowly and build up their activity gradually,” she said. “Those who have been active all their lives should continue to be.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.