When my dad had a stroke, on my 40th birthday, I just wanted to get him home from hospital and make him better.
I wasn’t prepared for the turbulent times ahead or for the next ten years of caring for him, then for mum after he died.
Like countless others I felt helpless and did what most caring daughters would do. “Let me help with that / you sit down / I’ll fetch that from upstairs for you…”
If only I’d know then what I know now – the very best thing we can do for our ageing parents and grandparents is not to do everything for them, but to keep them active.
And that means getting them to move more and sit less…
I now run exercise classes for older people to help them enjoy, rather than simply endure, their lives as they age.
Unfortunately we all lose muscle strength from 40 onwards (at a rate of 1-2% per year) unless we do something to stop the decline.
Unbelievably, even those in their 90s can still benefit and turn back the clock by up to 20 years in terms of muscle strength, as long as they do resistance exercises.
Here’s an example:
Stand up – sit down
This is just the best exercise to do as it keeps the ‘anti-gravity’ muscles working in our thighs. If you’re fit, just try getting up and down from an upright chair as quickly as you can for one minute with arms crossed over your chest – you’ll feel your legs working and it gets your heart beating a little faster.
But for someone in their 80s this is really challenging – it’s like you trying to do it using only one leg!
So here’s how to encourage your older relatives to do it carefully:
- Place a sturdy upright chair against a wall so it can’t slip
- Sit towards the front third of the chair, feet hip-width apart
- Draw the feet back a little closer so knees are over toes
- Sit up tall, lean forwards slightly and rise up from the chair to standing
- Touch the chair with the back of your legs then lower your bottom slowly to sit down fully before repeating.
See how many they can do in 30 seconds then try to improve their score each week.
By practising this regularly they’ll soon see the difference and it will help them with getting up and downstairs, on and off the bus, walking and living life to the full.
This is also a great exercise for younger people who sit a lot during the day at work. Set your phone alarm to remind you to do this for one minute, twice a day… it’s the equivalent of running up and down stairs, without leaving your desk.
Looking after our elderly relatives is about encouraging independence as much as it is about doing things for them. Helping them stay fit and active is a really important part of this.