Claire Bingham, PT, DPT, ATC
Older adults, usually around retirement age, often express that they feel like they are always at doctor’s appointments. These medical visits may be related to chronic diseases or diagnoses that typically occur with aging, but for many patients, they may also be related to a decreased overall activity level.
More Time at Home Isn’t Always a Good Thing
For seniors no longer working, that can often mean more hours spent around the house. Without hobbies to pursue or family or friends to visit, it can be easy to slip into a routine of staying in the house all day.
Spending more time at home is actually linked to increased illness in the retirement-age population. As we grow older, the body’s immune system begins to weaken, decreasing our ability to fight infections and chronic inflammatory disease. With age, an imbalance of muscle proteins and how they are used in the body occurs, which is exacerbated by decreased physical activity levels.
For adults who find themselves at home more often, lower weekly caloric expenditure is associated with loss of muscle mass and slower walking speeds. For this population, it can also mean a greater risk of falling.
What it Takes to Keep the Doctor Away
Older adults will face health challenges as they age regardless but should focus on improving the body’s immune system in order to remain the healthiest they can be. When compared to sedentary older adults, older adults who are active have been shown to have decreased effects of immune aging. One way to achieve that goal is to increase their level of physical activity. Physical activity can take place through formal exercise or through hobbies, or even gardening, riding a bike, cleaning the house or walking.
Other ways that retirement-age adults can improve their health and immunity include decreasing smoking and improving nutrition.
How Medical Professionals Can Help
Aging is normal and expected, but the severity of the changes is something patients can help control. Simple lifestyle changes can reduce the negative effects of aging, and allow you to be happier and healthier as you age.
If you don’t know where to start, physical therapists are trained to offer movement and activity ideas, help with modifications for hobbies, and reduce the risk of injury when starting those activities. Physical therapists are equipped with tools to examine older adults’ risk for falling and to prescribe interventions that improve balance, increase reaction time, and increase safety in the home and community.
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