Keeping active is an important part of everyday life for older Australians.
However, people over the age of 50 can develop health issues including reduced coordination, strength, balance, joint flexibility, respiratory function and increased blood pressure.
A risk of a fall also increases as we get older. Falls are the main cause of unintentional injury and hospitalisation among older Australians, and more than one in three people over the age of 65 experience a fall each year.
There are steps you can take to prevent falls, and one of them is doing exercises at home to improve your balance and strength.
Daily home exercises can be a great preventative measure against decline in mobility, and help you to feel more confident and energetic throughout your day.
How do I exercise safely at home?
The human body responds to exercise no matter its age, and the wonderful thing is that these activities can be adapted to suit your capabilities and personal needs at any fitness level.
The benefits of exercise for your health are numerous. Exercise not only influences your mental well-being and happiness, but can also improve your immune system, brain, heart and muscles.
Along with a healthy diet, these benefits can contribute to a better quality of life and increase your safety while living independently in your own home.
A recent website launched by a team of Australian physiotherapists, Safe Exercises at Home (www.saferexercisesathome.org), offers clinical and academic expertise in exercise and other forms of physical activity for older people and people with mobility limitations.
Associate Professor Michele Callisaya, a physiotherapist and researcher based at Monash University and Peninsula Health (partners in the National Centre for Healthy Ageing), contributed to this expertise with her specialist knowledge in exercises for older people and falls prevention.
Michele says daily exercises help her clients maintain independence in their own home as they can increase their mobility and be more stable on their feet – decreasing their risk of a fall.
“I was concerned that older people were having to stop their weekly gym or bowls sessions during COVID-19 restrictions and also missing out on incidental physical activity such as a walk down to the local shops. The new website provides exercises at three levels of fitness and function that can be done at home to maintain strength, balance and mobility.”
If you are used to moving about during your day, here are a few exercises from the website that you can incorporate into regular activities.
These exercises should be performed next to a table or bench top to support you if you feel unstable, and at a pace that feels comfortable for you. And if you have fallen in the past 12 months, or have any pain or concerns regarding exercise, you should see your GP or physiotherapist before starting.
Sit to stand
This exercise can help with getting up and down from a chair or toilet, and moving in and out of a car. You can practice these between commercial breaks on TV.
- Choose a sturdy chair that’s not too low
- Stand up slowly from a chair, keeping your knees slightly apart.
- Make it harder by using your arms less or not at all
- Then lower yourself back down into the chair
- Repeat 5 times
Side leg raise/sideways walking
This exercise improves stability and can be done while you wait for the microwave to finish.
- Start to walk sideways with slow steps along a bench or table
- Once you reach then end on the table or bench walk sideways back to the start
This exercise helps with walking and climbing stairs and can be done in the time it takes for the kettle to boil.
- Holding onto a bench or table, lift both heels off the floor and stand on your toes for three seconds, then slowly lower your heels to the floor
- Repeat 5 times
This exercise helps with climbing stairs and getting in and out of cars.
- Holding onto a table or bench, lift a knee to hip level and hold it for three seconds
- If you feel unsteady or have difficulty with the height or time, lift for a shorter time and not as high
- Repeat with the other leg
- Then repeat 4 to 8 times.
How can I exercise safely outside?
For those who are able to be active outside, a short walk around your neighbourhood in fine weather can help reduce pain, boost your mental health and promote social engagement with your friends and community.
Guidelines recommend 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. But it is important to build up slowly and 30 minutes can be broken down to smaller blocks e.g. 10 minutes x 3 per day.
If you have trouble getting motivated write down what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. Tell a friend or family, or even better go together.
A MePACS mobile alarm can help keep you safe and independent while you are away from home, as the device is splash proof, has a GPS locator and works anywhere with mobile reception.
There are also fitness classes usually available at local community centres, gyms and recreational places to accommodate for each level of physical health and mobility.
These can include water aerobics, tai chi and even dance classes.
What should I keep in mind?
- Complete exercises next to a table or bench top to support your balance
- Start slowly and understand your personal limits
- Rest in between exercises
- Stop immediately if you feel any pain, discomfort or more than moderate shortness of breath
The exercises in this article are not intended to replace professional care for individual health. If you have any concerns or questions about what you can safely do, you should seek professional advice from your doctor, physiotherapist, or other health professional with expertise in exercise prescription.
Associate Professor Michele Callisaya
A/Prof Michele Callisaya is a physiotherapist at Peninsula Health and Monash University and an NHMRC Boosting Dementia Leadership fellow. She is also a Senior Lecturer at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. Photo Credit: Peter Mathew