The coronavirus pandemic has forced most of us to stay indoors for some time in the foreseeable future. This may help us keep away from the COVID-19 infection, but could also bring forth some physical and psychological problems of being confined indoors. It is, therefore, important to be engaged in activities that can fight these two aspects. Simple exercises and walking indoors as much as possible can be helpful in preventing these problems. This is especially true for the elderly as they are at a bigger risk from not only the coronavirus but also from side effects of decreased mobility.
As we grow old, most of us adopt a sedentary lifestyle. This is when an active exercise routine becomes even more important; be it a half hour yoga session or exercising at home or any alternate method of indulgence in any physical activity. Regular exercise has been the much prescribed medicine for the elderly to maintain a healthy blood pressure, sugar/lipid profile and do away with the age-related health complications.
Bone is also a dynamic structure which is made up of a protein meshwork and is strengthened by deposition of calcium with the help of vitamin D. Every day some bone is absorbed and a new one is made. Similarly, calcium absorption and deposition also goes on continuously. Just like when we do exercises for the muscles, they become stronger and bigger in size, the bones also strengthen with increased protein deposition, making the bone trabeculae thicker and stronger. Chances of fragility fractures are less if one is stressing the bones with exercises and activities. On the other hand, if activity is reduced or one adopts a sedentary lifestyle, the protein and calcium from the bone starts getting washed away and leads to osteoporosis and easy fractures, especially in the elderly.
Follow an exercise routine
Beginning or keeping up a customary exercise routine can be tough at any age—and it doesn’t get any simpler as we get older. We may feel debilitated by medical issues such as body aches, knee pains, frozen shoulder etc. Most elderly are also worried about fall-related injuries while exercising and thus keep away from physical activity.
We often ask ourselves where to start from at this phase of life, in case we haven't exercised ever. The best kind of exercises recommended for the elderly are:
1. Brisk walking
Exercise Type: Aerobic
Brisk walking is less intense type of aerobic exercise, but beneficial as it keeps up the heartrate and boosts the muscles. It’s a better form of exercise than jogging as it exerts less impact over the joints in case one suffers from weak knees or ankles.
2. Stationary cycling
Exercise Type: Aerobic
Stationary cycles are available at most gyms and, nowadays, can be bought and kept at homes. This is a great form of aerobic exercise with less impact on the joints and minimal chances of injury.
Exercise Type: Balance
Squats are a simple and effective way to get your daily dose of balance exercise. The best part is no equipment is required to do a squat other than the body weight. This requires you to lower yourself from a standing position into a semi-sitting position. It’s important to follow the correct position—to keep the back straight as one squats.
4. Arm weights
Exercise type: Strength training
Lifting arm weights doesn’t only give one stronger arms, simultaneously it also strengthens the upper back muscles and shoulders, leading to a better posture and stronger upper body. Lifting weights is simple. One can start from a sitting or standing position with weights at the shoulder level and then lift them up all the way before lowering them back to the original position.
5. Regular stretching
Exercise type: Flexibility
Stretching is an essential exercise to keep the muscles intact and in the correct position. One needs to stretch all the different muscles in the neck, back, chest, abdomen, sides, arms, calves and thighs. Working the joints in the body is equally important to avoid joint stiffness.
Exercise type: Flexibility, strength training, balance
Yoga has been practiced for ages and is the best recommended form of exercise for stretching and muscle building at the same time. Surya namaskar, kapalbhati, are the best poses to ease the body functionality, mental discipline and focus.
7. Deep breathing exercises
Pranayama (a form of yoga)
Dos for exercising
1. Warm-up: Before you start working out, do warm-up exercises so that your body gets used to activity slowly rather than directly plunging into a heavy workout. A brisk warm-up session gets your body exercise-ready.
2. Drink adequate water: The oxygen in water helps keep your body oxygen levels normal. Drink water before you start exercising, during the session and after the session.
3. Wear fitting and comfortable clothes paired with sports shoes without heels.
Don’ts for exercising:
1. Do not eat anything two hours prior to exercise: Many people have the habit of having a snack before leaving for the gym to “maintain their energy levels”. But fibre and proteins in food take up to two hours to get digested (for diabetics, please ask your doctor).
2. Do not consume tea/coffee before exercise: If you are the habit of consuming tea/coffee with milk in the morning before exercising, you are actually consuming proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These are strictly not recommended before a workout as they take time to get digested.
3. Do not exercise if you haven’t slept properly: An older adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep. If you are unable to sleep for that much time, you will feel sleepy and tired during the day. Exercising with a tired mind and body will result in more fatigue and you won’t be able to enjoy the session.
Dr Yash Gulati is an orthopaedic surgeon with the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.