As they age, more than three quarters of those 50 or older want to remain in their home, or at least in their current community, according to a 2018 AARP national survey. Yet, only 59% think they will be physically able to do so, with fewer than half of them believing they’ll be able to stay in their actual home and 13% percent simply hoping to remain in their community.
“One of the biggest reasons older adults have to go into assisted living or get help in the home is due to a decrease in strength, and that can lead to problems with walking,” said Katrina Wolf, owner of Agewell Senior Fitness and a certified personal trainer. Fragility can also present problems performing basic daily activities such as showering, getting dressed and eating, she said.
Indeed, nearly 11 million older Americans struggle to walk or climb stairs; 7 million have trouble living independently; and almost 4 million have difficulty bathing or dressing, according to a 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the best ways to prepare to age in place? The right fitness program.
“Staying strong and having good balance is probably the most important thing you can do to be able to remain independent and take care of yourself,” Wolf said.
With more than 20 years of experience as a physical therapy assistant focused on home health, she founded Agewell Senior Fitness in 2018 after seeing a need in the community for customized exercises for homebound older adults with limited mobility. The company serves clients virtually and through in-home visits in Frederick, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
Exercise is generally safe, feasible and beneficial even for older adults who are already frail, and improves their quality of life, according to a 2015 National Institutes of Health study. A training program with multiple components was found to have a positive effect on functional ability, with programs lasting five months or more resulting in even greater benefits.
“A progressive exercise program is what helps older adults gain strength, become more independent and reduce their risk of falling,” Wolf said. “You need to address upper and lower body strengthening, as well as balance…we even incorporate some cognitive activities with our exercises.”
A customized, progressive fitness program changes as a person steadily improves. With strength training, for example, the last two to three reps of an exercise should be challenging. When people can do 15 reps without difficulty, they need to increase the amount of weight they are using, Wolf said.
Variation in routine is critical, too. If older adults are discharged from physical therapy and continue with the same exercises they were given, they won’t get stronger because their routine is not progressing. Plus, their needs may change over time, so it’s important that their exercise program does, too, she said.
Before starting a new program, a person should consult their physician to get clearance and to determine whether there need to be any restrictions on what activities they can perform. That’s where Agewell begins with its clients, also consulting their physical therapist if they had one.
It’s also important to assess a person’s strength and balance and customize the program to the individual. “Some people may be higher-level balance and some people may be lower-level balance and you have to tailor the exercises specifically to that person,” Wolf said. “They have to be challenging enough to promote change but not so challenging that they are unsafe.”
Ultimately, the goal of a progressive exercise program for older adults who want to age in place is to “to reduce risk of fall, improve their strength and to make them as independent and mobile as possible.”
This article is sponsored and paid for by Agewell Senior Fitness. It has been approved by the publisher as an article of general interest.