Fitness post-pandemic can be challenging. Here’s how to keep the seniors in your life active
Staying active can not only add years to a person’s life, but they’ll also feel better for it, says Anita Findlay, but it isn’t always easy. “COVID really impacted seniors and older adults by isolating them and preventing them from getting out,” says the fitness program coordinator at the Churchill Recreation Centre, “and now we have an issue with motivation.”
Findlay understands the reluctance that older adults may have about trying something, but she says not to push, either. “So often I get the adult child bringing the parent to our centre to show them the facilities to try and encourage them to get active,” says Findlay. “And usually the response is, ‘I’ll think about it’ even though we have so many options and classes. It’s really getting past that mindset.”
When seniors are not familiar with the programs or are not computer savvy enough to look at a website, most facilities have brochures or schedules in print form. “Or go proactive and register together for a class or workshop and organize the transportation for them,” says Findlay. “It’s about removing those barriers and with so many programs in communities across the city and region, there are no excuses.” There are other options as well. Findlay has done private exercise sessions with neighbourhood groups that are often multi-generational. And she says that if asked, some fitness instructors could be amenable to doing small groups. “Staying active as you age is just so important, and the benefits are huge across all age groups,” says Findlay. “If your parents or grandparents see you staying fit, they will see the benefit too.”
Meg Stickl-Kroeker sees the defenses come up all the time. “I know they are just trying to be well-meaning,” says Stickl-Kroeker of AIM Fitness, “but the minute a family member says something about parents’ or grandparents’ lack of activity you can see the wall come up. They just don’t want to be told. And you can’t force it.”
Instead, she says to encourage any kind of movement – go for a walk to the local park or around the block, and make it doable. “Unfortunately, COVID played havoc with seniors and older adults and their activity levels,” says Stickl-Kroeker. “They lost strength and muscle because they weren’t moving.” The risk of falls because of lack of activity is a real concern too. “Exercise really helps in preventing falls,” she says. “And in our senior and older adult population, we have an epidemic of falls.”
In Ottawa in 2017, there were over 2,000 fall-related hospitalizations, 8,000 emergency visits and over 90 deaths. “I understand the vicious cycle that people get into,” says Stickl-Kroeker. “They haven’t moved or exercised, but they feel comfortable and if they move, they worry about the risk of falling. But you’re more at risk if you don’t do something.” There are numerous exercise videos you can do at home, and many of them are free on platforms like YouTube. “Be the instigator and connect on Zoom with your parents and grandparents and do an exercise class together,” says Stickl-Kroeker. “Not only will [they] benefit, you will too.”
Every time Shahla Amojani teaches an exercise class, she finds her next class to have more participants. “They realize that they feel better, and they tell their friends,” says Amojani, an exercise specialist with Family Physio at Revera’s Alta Vista Manor. “The pandemic really isolated so many residents of retirement homes and many activities were restricted. “So many of our residents got used to being inactive,” says Amojani, “so my goal is to start with easy activities, like walking, and doing chair strength training to get endurance and muscle mass back. Staying active is so important.”
Amojani says she does get some resistance from residents, but her enthusiasm usually gets them to at least one class. “Once they see a class, they realize they’ll be doing something good for themselves,” says Amojani, “and not only that, but they also have fun and enjoy the company of other residents.
“It’s a win-win all round.”
Churchill Seniors Centre
Parks and Recreation for Older Adults
The Good Companions
Fit Over Fifty with Meg
Council on Aging’s Snow Moles
C.A.R.P. promotes and protects the interests, rights, and quality of life of Canadians as we age.
Anyone can join.