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"Dear Jayne, I need some ideas on how to help my parents get moving again!”


Dear Jayne:

My parents seem to spend a lot of time watching television. Until recent years, they weren’t ones to spend their retirement sitting around. I’m hearing more and more just how bad a sedentary lifestyle is for your health. While neither of them have any major health issues, I worry that by reducing their activity, they will develop them!

What can I do to help them get moving again?



Exploring Senior-Friendly Forms of Exercise

Dear Elizabeth:

It’s no secret that physical activity is an important part of aging well. Exercise helps with weight control, blood pressure, and stress reduction. What is a surprise to many people is the negative impact a sedentary lifestyle can have on aging. In fact, researchers are now calling it the new smoking! 

What I would first suggest is that you sit down with your parents to talk about why they aren’t as active as they used to be. Is there a physical issue such as arthritis that is making it more difficult to move around? While younger adults might not look at arthritis as a serious health condition, for those who suffer from it, the disease can be painful and debilitating.

See if you can have a heart-to-heart with your parents to determine what the underlying cause of their change in lifestyle is. While it could be a health concern you aren’t aware of, or a case of the blues that has them feeling unmotivated, it might also be that they’ve simply developed some bad habits.

The good news is that there are a variety of small steps you can encourage them to take to get moving again. Of course, it is important that your parents consult with their medical provider before undertaking any type of exercise regimen. The following suggestions are examples of the types of activities that may be approved.

It may be as simple as marching in place for ten minutes while they are watching television, going for a morning walk outside or at the local mall, or deep cleaning the house together.

If they are reluctant to have a conversation about exercise, there are some subtle steps you can take that will help increase their physical activity. A few may just be changing your routine:

  • Mail Stroll:  If you typically bring in the mail for your parents, ask them if they’d like to stroll out to the mailbox with you and chat about your day.
  • Grocery shopping.  Instead of picking up groceries, ask your mom or dad to join you once a week to help you pick out some new or favorite foods.
  • Get the grandkids involved! Nothing lifts spirits like a friendly visit with the grandkids.  Depending on their ability, invite them to push a stroller, pull a wagon, walk to the bus stop to pick up the kids, or go to a family swim at the local fitness center.  Just be sure they are stable and able!

Once your parents take a few small steps toward increasing their activity level, they will likely find it becomes easier to exercise.

Then you can talk with them about what types of fitness programs sound interesting to them. Several forms of exercise that are considered to be good for older adults include:

  • Chair yoga
  • Pilates
  • Water aerobics
  • Tai Chi

Area senior centers and fitness clubs typically offer these classes at a nominal fee.

Other senior-friendly fitness programs include:

  •  Go4Life: Developed by The National Institute on Aging (NIA), Go4Life has a variety of free resources to help seniors begin an exercise program and stay motivated. NIA will even mail a free workout DVD right to your parents’ home.
  • Silver Sneakers: A national program that has grown significantly in recent years is Silver Sneakers. It allows seniors to workout at a variety of local fitness centers at no cost to them. Check the program’s website to see if your parents’ health insurance plan is a member.
  • Growing Stronger: An increasing amount of research shows the role strength training plays in preventing falls among older adults. The Growing Stronger Guide is free from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Inside you will find tips for getting started with strength training, a quiz to measure strength, goal setting advice and suggestions for staying motivated.

Talk with Their Doctor First

Since it sounds like your parents have been sedentary for a while, I would encourage you to make sure they get the approval of their primary care physician before they begin any new exercise program.

Until next time,


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