Are You “Banking” for A Healthier Future?
Do your joints ache, or your bones creak? Does your back complain when you get out of bed in the morning? According to awarenessdepot.com, September is Healthy Aging Month, and October is National Physical Therapy Month. In order to honor these two occasions, I asked some local physical therapists for tips on helping seniors (and those of us who are working on becoming seniors), to be safer and healthier. My sister, a physical therapist in CT, said it this way, “The most common thing I hear from people in hospitals is ‘I never thought I’d get this way.’ We hope not to lose our jobs, but we keep money in the bank just in case. We hope never to be sick, but we should keep strength in the “bank” of our bodies JUST IN CASE.” The following health and safety tips were shared by my sister, and the therapists from Green Ridge Village in Newville, and Cumberland Crossings Retirement Community in Carlisle. We appreciate their willingness to share their expertise.
The most common theme among the tips I received was to be active. Folks who have been physically active tend to recover from injuries and illnesses more quickly than those who haven’t. Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous. Any activity that keeps your body moving will be helpful, even household chores. If you are interested in starting an exercise routine, you will be more successful if you choose something you will enjoy and are able to make it a part of your daily routine. It usually takes about six months for a change to become routine, so don’t give up, even though it may feel difficult in the beginning. Simple changes like choosing a parking space that is farther away, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can be an easy way to start exercising more. Planning an activity with a friend can help provide needed encouragement and motivation. Exercise programs designed for seniors, conducted by local senior centers or the YMCA, can provide opportunities to form new friendships in addition to the physical benefits of each program.
Increasing your physical activity is a great way to start down the road to better health, but remember to check with your physician before making any drastic changes. If you are already experiencing loss of strength or movement, or have pain, your physician can order a physical therapy consult to help determine the type of activities that would be most beneficial for you. The sooner you treat your symptoms, the greater the benefit you will receive.
Whether or not you plan to exercise, there are a couple of things that everyone can do to help their bodies. Gentle stretching before getting out of bed in the morning and before exercise will reduce discomfort and allow your muscles and joints to “wake up” before they are put to work. Have you taken a look at your feet lately? What type of shoes are you wearing? Many of today’s footwear styles lack the support that is necessary for proper balance and healthier joints. Just by changing your shoes you may be able to improve your endurance and reduce those aches and pains.
Here are some other tips to help you with your new “bank account:”
• When you are ready to get up from a seated position, you will have better balance if you lean forward until you have “nose over toes”, then stand up.
• Remove area rugs from your home and reduce clutter. Both create tripping hazards.
• When walking up and down stairs, remember “the good go to heaven, the bad go to hell.” (When going up, lead with the stronger leg. When coming down, lead with the weaker one.)
• Take your time. Most falls are caused by rushing.
• Intersperse strenuous activities with lighter ones to reduce fatigue, and take rest breaks when you are tired.
• Utilize good body mechanics to help reduce pain and risk of injury. For example, use your leg muscles to lift and keep the item you are lifting close to your body. (Remember the heavy suitcase from last week’s travel article?)
• A diet with fewer processed foods and more fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat can improve your overall health and functioning.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!
Although there are some things that we cannot control in life, we do have the ability to make choices which will positively affect our health. Some choices may require more effort than others, but in the long run, isn’t feeling better worth it? A therapist from Cumberland Crossings shared one final tip: “Take time each day to be thankful for all the wonderful things life has to offer, and prepare to be amazed at how much more you will enjoy your life to the fullest.”