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“Notice how your weight changes position when you move your feet,” Eileen Seegert told several elderly women in an exercise class focusing on balance.
Further instructing them to lean on a chair as they moved one leg up and down, she went on to tell them to bend, then straightened their leg.
“Heels under your hips, listen to your hips,” said the kinesiologist, paying close attention to each woman. “Turn your heels out and lift up and up and down and up and down. Then just hold your hands by the chair, but not on the chair — the chair is there if you need it — and you are moving forward, but you are also moving up.”
That class is just one of several exercise sessions Ms. Seegert teaches at the Jewish Family Service Senior Adult Center housed in Pelham Manor in West Toledo, where for 20 years she has helped seniors learn to stay fit. And while it’s not news that everyone needs regular exercise, regular physical activity could be more vital for the elderly because it not only helps them to remain strong and to ward off illness, but in the event of injury or illness, it can help shorten recovery.
As the nation combats the epidemic of widening waistlines in every age group, the importance of exercise for the elderly cannot be dismissed. Even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees that physically active seniors are better off than those who are not, as research shows.
“Millions of Americans, most of them older adults, suffer from chronic illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity,” HHS states online in information from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality about physical activity and the elderly. “Lack of physical activity is an important contributor to many of the most important chronic diseases for older Americans, including heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure.”
Studies also show that it’s never too late to become physically active and that even a small amount can improve physical health. Exercise also benefits mental health and those with memory loss. Fortunately the elderly in the Toledo area can obtain exercises sessions at senior centers . Programs such as the one at Pelham Manor benefit seniors who might be unstable on their own, who lack confidence to move about alone, or whose caregivers are unsure how to help their aging loved one.
Ms. Seegert’s seniors don’t just walk in and begin exercising. They give their health history and sign a waiver. When there is a red flag, she asks for permission from their doctors. Plus, before and after each class, she takes each person’s heart rate.
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Anyone in a wheelchair are not expected to perform at the same level as their ambulatory peers. Most of the people in Ms. Seegert’s classes get around on their own, though she has had some who use a cane, walker, or wheelchair, and all do as much as they are comfortable doing. In fact, Mary Lou Whittaker at Pelham Manor said their seniors come from throughout the area, and that if someone cannot do a routine, the person simply does not do it.
Describing herself as a “movement therapist,” Ms. Seegert incorporates a variety of exercise, such as strength training, yoga, tai chi, and belly and ballroom dancing. She also uses balls and free weights.
“There’s a huge range of abilities that seniors have, just like there is with younger people, we do all that younger people do,” Ms. Seegert said.
That means warm-up and cool-down periods, too, even if they mighty last a little longer, which underscores the fact that she makes adjustments for seniors After all, some have ailments, including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, so it’s necessary to take steps to minimize the risk of injury and to ensure effectiveness. Furthermore, some routines she does not do: Never is the head lower than the heart, and no windmills are done in Ms. Seegert’s classes.
Exercise also benefits persons with dementia, too, said Cheryl Conley, program director at the Alzheimer’s Association, Northwest Ohio Chapter. She added that research shows that physical activity decreases the amount of a certain protein in the brain of some dementia patients.
“Anything that’s good for the heart is good for your brain. Lots of literature shows that exercise is good for your heart, and the number one thing people can do for their brain is to exercise,” said Ms. Conley, adding that physical activity increases blood flow.
The Alzheimer’s association has two programs for persons with dementia. Those who go to the association’s adult day centers can look forward to exercising at those sites, which are located at the association’s main office at 2500 N. Reynolds Rd., and at 131 N. Wheeling St., in the Lutheran Homes Society, Ms. Conley said.
Also, elderly persons with any dementia who don’t go to a senior center can benefit from an association program called RDAD: reducing disability and Alzheimer’s disease. It has a two-fold goal: an association staff member works with seniors with dementia in their homes to help them improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Staff members also help caregivers address difficult behavior in the older person, Ms. Conley said.
Clearly, the results of physical activity are more far reaching than aiming for and keeping a fit body. It’s a plus for mental health, and helps in the recollection process, too.