Should you consider in-home fitness training for your aging parents?
In my work with clients at midlife and beyond, and in my own personal life, I see the challenges adult children face as they watch their own parents aging. At a time when you're overwhelmed by the demands of your own life, you're also faced with the reality that your parents are getting older and requiring more attention and care. Layer on top of that the changing dynamics of the parent/child relationships as the caregiving roles begin to reverse, and you can see how challenging it is to navigate this time of life.
A number of my senior clients have come to me as a result of inquiries by their adult children, and I'm happy to share with you the top five reasons in-home fitness training can make sense for your aging parents.
Exercise Makes Everything Better
That sounds like an exaggeration, but the benefits of exercise are so wide-ranging that I sometimes believe exercise really does make everything better. At the very least, your aging parents can expect that regular, moderate exercise will deliver a whole host of physical and mental benefits.
Phsyically, you know that a well-designed exercise program will improve strength, endurance, balance and flexibility, but did you also know that exercise can ease the pain of arthritic joints and increase mobility? Or that the right kinds of exercise can increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis? Regular exercise helps maintain healthy blood sugar and lipid levels as we age and helps us maintain a healthy body fat level. Regular exercise will help your aging parent get better quality and quantity of sleep.
Mentally, regular exercise has been shown to improve mood, even decreasing anxiety and depression symptoms as effectively as medications do in some individuals. Aerobic exercise improves memory and executive function such as planning and problem solving.
They'll Get Clear, Safe Instructions
It's tempting to send your parents off to the local gym or rec center for group classes, but it can be quite risky to send a special-needs client into a group class setting where you don't know the quality of instruction and there's much less personal attention. Painful joints, muscle imbalances, memory loss, medications, balance issues, osteoporosis: these are all special needs that require careful monitoring and instruction to prevent injury. Sadly, I'm often hired to work with a senior client after they've already experienced a painful injury in a group class.
It's also important to remember that our parents didn't grow up in an age when exercise was something you went out of your way to do. Our parents got their exercise by living their lives! Someone who didn't grow up exercising with Jack LaLanne or Jane Fonda often needs careful instructions to perform movements safely and effectively. And especially if your parent is dealing with memory loss, or impaired hearing or vision, an experienced instructor who can provide instructions that are consistent and easy to follow can make all the difference between a workout that is effective and one that's just frustrating.
They'll Feel Safer and More Comfortable in Their Own Home
You've probably noticed that your parents have begun to narrow their circle of activities. As vision, mobility and memory problems increase, your aging parent will likely feel more comfortable limiting excursions and staying in an environment that feels safe and familiar.
In-home fitness training gives them the opportunity to get a full workout without having to feel vulnerable driving or being in the foreign environment of a gym or rec center. Working out at home also saves the hassle of packing a bag, showering at the gym and keeping track of membership ID cards.
You'll Know They're Getting a Regular Visitor
Your parents may not need regular in-home caregiving yet, but if you are not able to do regular wellness checks, you can gain some peace of mind knowing that your parent is getting a regular visit from their trainer.
Because I'm usually visiting my senior clients once or twice a week, I often notice changes in their physical or mental function that can be indicators of bigger issues. I have had seniors clients show signs of memory loss, dizziness, shortness of breath, joint injury and medication interactions that might have gone unnoticed with less frequent visits or in a group setting.
Even if your parents are in good health, a regular visitor from outside can bring important mental and social stimulation to keep them engaged and well.
They Will Improve Self-Efficacy and Maintain Independence
Done right, exercise has been shown to improve feelings of self-efficacy or confidence in one's ability to accomplish a new task. This confidence is especially important for your aging parents as they begin to experience loss of functionality. It can be devastating to feel that you are losing the ability to care for yourself or to live independently in your home, but regular exercise can improve the physical skills and the mental confidence needed to maintain that independence.
I'm careful to design exercise programs that help seniors maintain functionality in their activities of daily living. Whether your parent needs to maintain flexibility so he can dress himself or needs to build core and lower body strength to prevent falls, we'll develop a program that addresses their specific needs and helps them feel confident in their daily activities.
Knowing how to provide the right kidn of support for your parents as they age is a tricky proposition. You want to help them maintain their independence and quality of life as long as possible, but you worry about their safety and ability to manage. Coming up with a realistic and compassionate care strategy requires a great deal of thought along with honest assessments of your parents' abilities and the resources available to them. In-home fitness training may be exactly the sort of creative solution you need for keeping your aging parents happily and healthily in their home for as long as possible.
(Image credit: nyul)