By Anna Hazard
View the Rest of the Series
Part 2 - Diet & Allergies
With the advent of spring and more welcoming weather, people are coming out of their own inside hibernation during the past winter months. Now that the temperatures are more co-operative, seniors as well should take advantage of the chances for outside exercise, as the greater exposure to sunlight helps in the production of Vitamin D, something that the body produces less and less efficiently as one ages and which can often fall below the healthy threshold for seniors during winter months.
It's recommended that seniors have at least 20-30 minutes of exercise per day adjusted to their specific health, ability and mobility issues. Even something as simple as walking will benefit heart, joint, & mental health as well as increasing the quality of life as one ages by helping to lower blood pressure & glucose, improve mood, sleeping patterns, body fatigue and provide better weight control. Always remember to warm-up and stretch before and then cool down after exercises, especially for those of more delicate health or for the less active.
Some spring appropriate exercise includes walking (or rolling for those wheelchair bound) along good, flat paths in nearby parks or wooded areas to help reconnect with nature. The terrain should always be scouted out ahead of time to make certain that it's suitable for a specific senior's capabilities. Bug repellant should always be worn in such surroundings, especially in those regions which have insect-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus or Zika. Footwear with sturdy soles that have good grip upon the ground are a must even without winter snowy conditions to help prevent falls, which are the leading cause of death or injury in people over age 65 in the USA.
If a nature stroll is out of the question, other low impact and easy exercises include stair climbing (which uses the same muscles necessary for maintaining balance as well as rising from a sitting position) or even parking further away from the front entrance during grocery, mall, or other shopping trips or visits.
Spring is also a good time to socialize and so two objectives may be accomplished by joining a senior center or group activity program such as senior yoga, pilates, tai chi (which would help with balance and flexibility for helping to prevent falls), low impact aerobics, or senior swimming and other aquatic therapy programs (which would be especially good for those with arthritis or other chronic pain)
Gardening is another outdoor & nature-related activity that is popular amongst seniors during the spring time. Beyond providing the daily dose of sunshine, it's been found to be calming & relaxing for those who indulge in it as well as providing a host of sensory stimulation. The physical motions of digging, planting, and weeding can help improve strength and flexibility within the arms & hands.
Tall garden plots that are situated at waist height can be used for those in wheelchairs or others who have limited ability to bend over or rise from a sitting or crouching position. Those with other mobility or dexterity issues may wish to focus on low maintenance spring blooming perennials such as sedum, pasque, bleeding heart, russian sage, and sea thrift which would require less manual upkeep.
As with any outdoor activity, certain precautions should be taken with any seniors going outdoors. Besides the ever-present need of shoes with good traction, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats should be donned during sunny days. As spring weather can be variable, ranging from cool to warm, back-up sweaters and jackets should be kept on hand in case of sudden chills. Sunscreen of at least SPF 30 should always be worn when going outside even during overcast days as harmful UV rays are still present even when the sun is covered.
As well as clothing and skin protection, seniors should take care to remain hydrated, especially if they are engaging in outside exercise during warmer weather. As one ages, the body's ability to notice thirst may decrease and the presence of medications or pre-existing conditions that are more likely to occur in the elderly can also lead to easier dehydration. Dehydration interferes with memory & concentration as well as greatly increases the risk of falling.