Physical therapists play a vital role in helping older people continue to keep moving in their later life. Considering the fact that baby boomers comprise a whopping 78 million of the US population, it’s really our duty to find innovative ways to promote their ongoing mobility. We really owe it to the generations before us who cultivated the sophisticated lives we are accustomed to today. They paved the way for us, so let’s pave the way for their optimized movement now!
During the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)’s campaign for PT Month a few years ago, they released some interesting information about being “Fit after 50”. For example:
- 7/10 Americans over age 50 are physically active—-however, 2.5 baby boomers have to be admitted to the ER for problems related to “over-exercising”
- 1/10 older Americans say they only are active a few days a month
- 11% of boomers report that they are never physically active
- Baby boomers suffer from tons of conditions like: hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes
Working out, or at least keeping relatively active, helps reduce likelihood of many of the chronic illnesses. Provide your PT patients with the right tools and knowledge to keep themselves healthy in their later years….
1. Help older patients improve their strength
As we age, muscle strength gets lost easily. In addition to promote exercise and frequent movement training, you definitely should be reinforcing the importance of maintaining muscle strength. Atrophy (shrinking of muscle fibers) becomes an increasing issue as we age. People over age 50 should be encouraged to engage in at least twice weekly strength training. The key areas to look at: arms, shoulders, legs, and trunk.
2. Encourage flexibility training
As we age, we tend to sit around a lot more than we used to. Suddenly, we find that hamstrings or back muscles are tight. Stretching is an important ritual for older people to get into. Recommending your physical therapy patients to start doing flexibility training is a good habit to start investing time in. However, getting started with it can be a challenge. Everyone is different and with such a range of kind of lifestyles and health statuses of older Americans, its key for them to find what works best for them. For example, people who sit at desks for work can try stretches like bringing their head forward and rounding their shoulders. When you see older patients, investigate whether dynamic or static stretching is best.
Unfortunately, a lot of older people get injured stretching. **Physical therapists must be extra careful to teach the right techniques.**
3. Educate patients on aerobic techniques that work for their lives
Whether it be swimming, jogging, biking, or simply doing yard work; aerobic exercise can be made out of nearly everything. It is recommended that people under age 65 engage in at least 150 min of moderately intense exercise weekly. People over 65, however, need about 330 minutes of aerobic movement. Encourage older patients to get in as much moderate activity as possible within their day.
4. Promote balance
Believe it or not, balance training is something PTs need to warn boomers about joining. Older people are more likely to have falls and injuries. Therefore, recommend to your patients they indulge in exercises like standing on one leg and alternating. Yoga or Tai Chi are great forms of exercise full of balance-promoting benefits.