The benefits of exercise for seniors can not be overstated. However, finding the type of senior exercise that matches the capabilities, inabilities and still has a high level of enjoyment for seniors, can be tricky.
Swimming may not be the first activity that comes to mind when considering an exercise program for an elderly person, but it is one of the best exercises the elderly can do to stay young, able-bodied, and healthy. The benefits of this exercise are numerous, including a lower risk of falls, posture stability, a decrease in the amount of pain an elderly person feels, better mental health, and enhanced cardiac function. Because swimming is a simple, non-weight bearing exercise, almost anyone of any physical ability can participate in it.
Lower Risk of Falls
Studies show that swimming is the only exercise that provides the benefit of lowering the risk of falling down, which is a serious danger for people in their older years. In fact, a study conducted by Australian researchers, headed by Dafna Merom, followed 1,700 elderly men for a period of four years. During that time there were 2,700 falls among the men. Of those 1,700 men, however, the ones who swam were 33 percent less likely to fall compared to the men who participated in other exercise activities, such as walking, golfing, aerobic activity, and riding a bike. Experts believe the lower risk of falls is a result of the balance a person must create while they are in the water. Balancing one’s own body and coordinating how the upper and lower parts of the body work together makes the mind command the body’s cooperation—skills which carry over when a person is on land.
Posture stability refers to the ability of a person to stay perfectly still without swaying. The Australian study of the 1,700 men also focused on postural sway, measuring how much each man swayed during a 30-second posture study. The men that participated in swimming showed better results in this study than the men that did not swim. Postural sway is important for balance; the more a person can balance, the less likely he or she is to fall in the future, making swimming an even more important exercise for the elderly.
Decrease in Pain
Pain is a common complaint of the elderly and it is what often causes them to become sedentary, avoiding exercise. This is especially true for the elderly who suffer from arthritis and cannot handle any type of weight bearing activity. Swimming does not cause strain on the common painful joints, such as the knees and ankles, so it is the preferred method of exercise for people with this condition, but any elderly person can benefit, especially from the cardio benefits swimming provides.
Better Mental Health
There are many ways that swimming can help an elderly person’s mood. Whether or not an elderly person suffers from an actual mental health disease, such as depression or anxiety, or the person just suffers mood swings as a result of aches and pains felt on a daily basis, swimming can help. It helps to release endorphins, which are the good hormones within the brain that produce happy feelings; it also reduces the pain a person feels, which helps to facilitate happier moods.
Effects on Cardiac Health
Studies are being conducted to determine the positive effects swimming has on the cardiac health of the elderly. It is already known that swimming can reduce high blood pressure because of the activity itself, but scientists are looking into whether swimming has a direct effect on arterial stiffness. This condition is what causes high blood pressure and subsequent heart problems, such as heart attack and stroke in the elderly. According to the results of the study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, improving arterial stiffness is a good reason for people to participate in this non-weight bearing exercise as they age.
Exercising can be difficult for the elderly, but swimming is one of the easiest activities they can participate in. There are a variety of ways to incorporate this activity into one’s day, including group based classes that work on specific muscle groups as well as simply swimming laps at the local pool. If an elderly person suffers from chronic pain, does not exercise, or needs to stabilize moods, swimming a few times per week may improve his or her conditions substantially.
It is important to consult a doctor before beginning any new activity, but most people are perfectly able to swim despite their conditions. It is one of the best ways to alleviate pain and suffering and to help elderly people be happily active during their elderly years.
More on Senior Exercise: Exercise for Seniors: Light or Moderate Is Best
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