Why community-based exercise is best for older adults

You are 72 years of age, suffer from shoulder pain and type 2 diabetes, and can no longer drive or carry your grandchild without pain. A friend has recommended an exercise program that they attend at the local senior community centre, but you’re not sure it can help you. Here’s why you should try it.

 

Regular physical activity is essential for staying healthy as we age, but older adults are often reluctant to exercise due to physical limitations, safety concerns and accessibility issues. More than two-thirds of Australians aged over 65 years are not performing enough exercise to reduce their risk of developing chronic disease and/or disability.

Studies have shown that exercise can have a significant positive impact in the prevention, treatment and management of many chronic health conditions including diabetes, cancers and heart disease. As a result, aged care organisations are starting to provide community-based exercise programs led by Accredited Exercise Physiologists to minimize the growing incidence rates of chronic disease and assist older adults to live longer and fuller lives.

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Why should you try community-based exercise?

 

  • Social connectedness and interaction: Older adults can experience a loss in functional ability as part of the ageing process, which often makes it difficult to get out and stay socially connected. Community-based exercise programs provide a safe, supportive and interactive environment to build and maintain relationships, mental wellbeing and self-confidence. A recent research review found that older adults adhere to a community-based exercise program primarily due to the social support and sense of belonging they receive. Therefore, older individuals are more likely to maintain exercise habits if it provides an opportunity to interact with friends and peers.

 

  • High motivation and enjoyment levels: Linked with the social aspect of community exercise is an improvement in participant satisfaction and motivation. A 2003 study investigated the impact of a community-based balance program in 163 adults aged over 65 years. Along with a significant reduction in falls occurrence over 12 months, 76% of the participants continued in the group program after the study had finished, indicating a high level of enjoyment and motivation to maintain their exercise routine.

 

  • Improved physical function and independence: Studies have shown that community programs are as effective as home-based exercise in enhancing the functional mobility, balance and strength of healthy older adults. For those with chronic disease, exercise is traditionally delivered on a strict 1-to-1 client-therapist ratio due to the high level of risk in this population. However, researchers recently discovered that community programs have the potential to significantly enhance physical function and health-related quality of life over standard 1-on-1 care in patients with osteoarthritis, chronic pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease.

 

  • Access to additional services: Aged care services are rapidly increasing to cope with the ageing population, including the establishment of senior community centres. These institutions provide a variety of affordable services including transportation, home assistance and cleaning, leisure activities, financial support, counselling and health care. With more research emerging about the benefits of exercise for healthy ageing, physical activity programs have been added to the list of services offered. As a result, these centres become a ‘one-stop shop’ for older adults, whereby they are able to attend an exercise session then go have a coffee, play some bingo or get their hair done before being driven home. (To find a senior citizen centre near you, visit the Clubs of Australia website here.)

 

  • Safety and supervision: On average, 30% of adults aged over 65 years experience at least one fall annually, which can result in detrimental health outcomes like loss of mobility, hospitalisation, and a heightened fear of falling. Therefore, when it comes to exercise, older adults require higher levels of monitoring and supervision. Community-based exercise programs are superior to home exercise in this instance due to the presence of a supervisor, particularly if they are an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. Participants are able to challenge their balance, strength and fitness to an extent that would not be appropriate or safe to do at home independently.

active ageing

How can an Accredited Exercise Physiologist help?

 

Accredited Exercise Physiologists play an important role in the delivery of community-based programs for both well and unwell clients. As university-trained allied health professionals who specialise in exercise and health management, we can:

  • Prescribe individualised exercise and support for healthy or at-risk clients for prevention of disease and injury
  • Facilitate the smooth transition and continuation of care for those with chronic health conditions during and after their medical treatment
  • Foster self-management by educating and equipping clients with the skills necessary to take control of their health and maintain their independence, function and quality of life
  • Contribute to reducing health care costs and hospital admissions whilst keeping older adults in their own homes

 

Tips to remember

  • Community-based exercise programs provide many benefits for the older adult including social interaction, supervision and support, motivation and enjoyment
  • Accredited Exercise Physiologists deliver safe and effective community-based programs that assist with improving an older adult’s physical function, quality of life and self-management whilst taking into account individual needs and medical conditions
  • Talk to your GP before commencing an exercise program, especially if you have existing health conditions
  • For more information about what community-based exercise programs are available in your area, contact a local Accredited Exercise Physiologist

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