Tips from an Athletic Therapist: Staying active while you age

Senior man at gym stretching
Picture of Jeff Peach

Jeff Peach

Jeff Peach is a CAT(C) and CSCS that is currently the Program Director for Webber Academy Wildcats Baseball. He specializes in shoulder and elbow rehabilitation in throwing and other overhead athletes. Jeff has been working as an Athletic Therapist for the last six years after graduating from the University of Calgary, and has been a baseball coach for the last 12 working with both youth and professional athletes.

As it is in most cases, athletic therapy is not often thought of at the top of the list of healthcare practitioners when dealing with the senior population. However, just as we as a profession can demonstrate to the general public that our knowledge and skillset can help people with their day to day lives, so too can we provide tremendous value to our senior population. Having spent the past few years working with seniors in a variety of settings (enhanced care wards, assisted living situations, and those who are still independent), I have come to really understand the importance of remaining active as you age. Here are some of the anecdotal patterns I have noticed that will help seniors stay active:

1. Scheduling is king!

Seniors who are diligent about maintaining a set schedule for their activities and exercises usually tend to remain more independent. Even more so are the ones who seek an alternative setting or environment to remain active. One might think that having exercise equipment easily accessible in their home would encourage more exercise, but it also makes it easier to “put it off until later because it’s right there” and then can be forgotten.

2. Activities of daily living are still activities

Oftentimes, when couples are living together, one partner will assume more of the roles and responsibilities of the household for a multitude of reasons (physical OR mental). This partner often thrives physically, as they challenge their bodies through a variety of maneuvers and demands that wouldn’t typically be categorized as “exercise.” For example, 3 x 10 bodyweight shoulder flexions are simply 3 x 10 dishes out of the dishwasher and back into the cupboard. The low, steady-state demands of cleaning the house, organizing meals, and running errands keep them on their feet. On the other hand, the partner whose care and attention needs have increased often participates less and less with these activities, and their strength and mobility suffer because of it. So when dealing with seniors, sometimes it can actually be beneficial to NOT make things as easy, convenient, and within arms reach of the Barcalounger.

3. Repetition can be a good thing

As Athletic Therapists, we typically strive to mix up the movement patterns of our exercises and keep things from getting stale. More often than not though, seniors appreciate repetition. Movement complexity, intricate drawings, and a variety of movement cues often lead to reduced follow-through with a program. Patients can also sometimes believe they are incapable of performing an action (as simple as standing up) due to weakness when they just need a gentle reminder of the body positioning that goes into that movement.  Helping them re-discover movements like the hip hinge, head positioning, and the importance of pelvic control through simple mnemonics (“nose over toes to stand up” is a favourite) can promote confidence and independence.

Senior being helped by an athletic therapist
Jeff Owen CAT© (co-owner of AIM Therapy) working with a senior at her retirement community

The senior population will continue to grow in number, propelled along as baby boomers retire. Athletic Therapists are equipped to provide valuable knowledge and service to this generation. Our ability to combine exercise with rehab, and find unique solutions to unique problems affecting each individual can be extremely helpful. Through activity, not only can we help provide improved quality of life for seniors, but also benefit the generations that follow them as we work to reduce their reliance on healthcare systems!

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