As we age, our muscles, bones and joints grow weaker. If a person stops exercising and becomes sedentary, there are various risks:
- more susceptible towards injuries because of weak muscles that could no longer support the muscoskeletal structure of the body
- degenerative diseases like osteoporosis and arthritis starts and progress at a faster rate
- postural imbalances occurs due to muscle imbalance and changes in bone structure
- and of course, higher risk of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle such as high blood pressure, heart problems, cholesterol, diabetes, etc.
Exercise and proper diet (higher in fibre, less in saturated fat and an overall balanced diet) would help the older population live a life of better quality- mobility, better function and less pain. No one wants to be a burden to others and the sense of independence will let the person enjoy the golden years.
If you are an older adult who intends to start on an exercise program or if you would like to plan an exercise program for your parents, I would strongly recommend that you follow these guidelines:
- do not go straight to an exercise program
- see a physician, get a checkup done to rule out any illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, potential heart problem. This is important because for instance, if someone is suffering from an artery blockage for instance, exercise would aggravate the situation. Then get a clearance from the physician.
- I strongly recommend a occupational therapist be consulted. This is especially if the older adult has obvious postural problems, lower back pain, or pain/injuries on certain parts of the body, immobility of certain parts of the body, conditions like stiff neck/shoulders.
Let me share with you on my mom’s visit to a occupational therapist.
- Initially, I had wanted to start my mom on an exercise program because I noticed that her osteoporosis is causing her to stoop. And gosh, she’s only 63 and had largely led an active lifestyle (she worked hard throughout her life). Also, one of her shoulders are lower than the other and when she walked, sometimes she seemed to be a bit wobbly (this really worries me). She also suffered from very stiff shoulders on one side.
- I also thought she had scoliosis which is the vertebrae bone becoming twisted if look from behind.
- So I recommended that she start to do walking and brought exercise bands to be used for her training at home. I was thinking to focus on some exercises to strengthen her shoulders and back. Somehow, she was very reluctant to do these exercises.
So after refusing me each time, I tried to coax her to see a occupational therapist, which she finally agreed. Today, I brought her to a therapist. He evaluated her by doing therapeutic massage and identifying weak/sore muscles. Here are some very interesting findings:
- she does not have scoliosis. The reason why one part of the shoulders were higher than other was due to muscle imbalances- one part is much tighter than the other
- the therapist could correctly tell her which part of her muscles are sore, which part had some numbing pain, and which part, when massaged, gives her sharp pain. He could also identify which muscles that are weak. He explained that my mom was starting to stoop partially because her back muscles (around the kidney areas) are weak and unable to support her body, causing her to stoop forward like an 80 year old lady.
- he also examined her legs and said that she has a weaker quadriceps compared to her hamstrings. And the lateral (outer) side of her calf muscles are very tired and strained. This would typically make walking to be an unpleasant experience for her because it will stress her muscles (my mom also had bow legs). It explains why she is never keen to go for walks in the park or prolonged shopping- the therapist said she will always have the tendency to look for a place to sit down. He said as people go older, their quadricep (front thighs) muscles are the first to be weaken.
- on both side of her feet, at the heel area, she has corns (bunions)– that even after removed, will come back. Corns are an indicative of strain placed on the heels due to posture imbalances caused by muscle weaknesses at certain part of the legs.
- certain part of her muscles, especially at the place where the shoulder is stiff- does not have proper circulation and the muscles there are weaker. As the result of that, blood flow is restricted and toxins that accumulate at the area forms crystals (hardening). Therefore, she cannot start on a strength training program as the strengthened muscles will further cause the toxins to be trapped. This is new to me.
Prescribed treatment by the therapist after the initial assessment:
- 4 sessions of massage- to improve her circulation and remove the toxins. It will also relax the muscles that were previously tensed. After each session, she is required to drink lots of water
- After that, it will be another 4 sessions of stretching to improve her joint mobility and ease the tension in the muscle. Only after that, she should start wearing proper orthodontics shoes to help with her posture alignment
- Then finally, another 4 sessions for muscle strengthening- he will teach my mom how to strengthen her quads and back.
My point is that, I am grateful to have brought her to see a occupational therapist instead of starting her on an exercise program immediately. Somehow, she instinctively knew that she should not be doing those exercises. From this visit, I understand the important of massage therapy (the proper ones, not the ones from massage parlors) to remove toxins, help to correct alignment before embarking on typical exercise program.
So if you are a senior who suffers from pain and intend to go to the gym and start an exercise program, go and visit a physiotherapist or occupational therapist first. No doubt, it is quite costly (sometimes, it almost equal to a year of gym membership) but the treatment /exercises prescribed is invaluable to help prevent any future injuries.