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Published on April 04, 2016

Don’t let age or a disability keep you from exercising

Don’t let age or a disability keep you from exercising

Getting adequate and safe exercise can be challenging if you’re elderly or disabled. You may be unable or unwilling to join a gym, fearful of falling, or physically restricted to a wheelchair or their home.

But, take heart; there are effective ways for even the most reluctant or discouraged person to exercise.

“We have people who, metabolically, all they can do is roll in bed, but that’s still meaningful  physiologically,”  said John Corsino, DPT, an acute care physical therapist at Cape Cod Hospital. “Nothing is too small, if that’s what’s appropriate for you.”

Exercise should align with an individual’s health and ability, and the benefits are many, including:

  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • More stamina and strength
  • Greater flexibility
  • Decreased stress and depression
  • Weight control
  • Better balance and reduced fall risk.

Corsino encourages patients to do an activity they enjoy. Many people look forward to water exercises at the Barnstable YMCA, or participating in a Tai Chi class, Corsino said.

Those with disabilities might try wheelchair yoga or sled hockey, a sport for which Corsino and a friend are trying to organize a local group. This sport is open to disabled and able-bodied alike, as participants are strapped into sleds that they propel with hockey sticks.

“Everyone’s involved,” he said. “Everyone’s at the same level.”

For those unable to leave their homes, keeping fit may include walking up and down stairs or repeatedly standing up from a seated position.

“There are always options,” Corsino said.

How much is enough?

For most able-bodied adults, the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise five times a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week.  The organization also recommends some moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercise twice a week. For those trying to lower their cholesterol or blood pressure, the rule is 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity three or four times a week.

Similar guidelines are recommended for disabled adults who are capable of such activity, according to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. The Center says aerobic exercise should be done in intervals of at least 10 minutes and spread throughout the week. Those who cannot meet this level of activity are urged to perform some sort of regular exercise.

For seniors, the American Heart Association relaxes their guidelines and recommends they develop a plan with your health professional that corresponds to your condition. The group advises:

  • Easing into moderate exercise
  • Drinking water to stay hydrated
  • Stretching slowly at first to avoid injury.

“It’s never too late to start,” said Joseph Guardino, a certified personal trainer who specializes in senior fitness. “Almost everybody can do something.”

Guardino runs exercise classes at Yarmouth Senior Center, Thirwood Place in South Yarmouth, and Heatherwood in Yarmouthport. He also offers private lessons in clients’ homes.

“I have people up to 95 years of age – I have people who are really up there that can do a lot.”

He asks clients to first get clearance from their doctor to take part in exercise sessions.

This is especially true for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiac issues, COPD, neuropathy, hip or knee replacements, etc.

“What I tell people is just remain as active as possible,” he added. “My goal is to get them as healthy as they can be.”