Ask the Expert: Lauren Smith, PT, DPT, Answers Your Questions on Injury Prevention for Seniors
by Lauren Smith
Q1. What’s the safest way to get exercise as a senior? Want to make sure I stay in-shape but don’t think I can handle anything high-impact.
Generally the safest way to get exercise is by performing low impact activities, such as walking, bicycling, or swimming. These activities put less stress on your joints and will help to maintain good cardiovascular health and keep you in shape. If tolerated, it is recommended that seniors perform exercise of moderate intensity for thirty minutes, five days per week.
Q2. Are there stretches you recommend for seniors? Anything that works as injury prevention for seniors?
Every senior patient presents differently, so it is difficult to give specific stretches without seeing the person. However, research shows that the majority of seniors spend most of their day in a seated position. So it is important to work on stretching hip muscles and postural muscles that may become tight with prolonged sitting. Specific stretches can be provided by a physical therapist depending on what limitations are present in that individual.
To prevent injury seniors should work on balance activities to help decrease their risk of falls. Falls are the number one cause of injury in older adults. One out of three adults aged 65 and older falls each year. Remember to walk in well lit areas, wear proper shoe wear, lift unnecessary throw rugs or carpets in the home, and install grab bars in bathrooms if needed.
Q3. Are there specific exercises you recommend for me? I’m in my early 70s and battling arthritis in my knees.
That is a very tricky question! Every person is different and requires specific exercises to help address their personal needs. Generally, people with knee arthritis should limit any activity that increases their pain level. A stationary bicycle can be used to help maintain knee range of motion. Walking and swimming activities can help to maintain cardiovascular health. For most people, gentle isometrics of the quadriceps (thigh muscle) can be done to help support the knee. For more specific exercises please speak with you physician to see if physical therapy might be an option for you.
Q4. What’s a good way to maintain balance as we age?
Tai Chi is a great way for seniors to practice balance activities. Speak to your Physician to see if a Tai Chi class may be appropriate for you. If you are able to tolerate standing positions, you can challenge your balance by holding onto a steady object and lifting one leg off the floor. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and then alternating legs. If your balance is poor and you have experience falls consult with your physician about receiving a physical therapy consultation.
Q5. I have RA and am in my late 60s – are there any activities I should avoid when it comes to exercise?
Activities that cause pain or increase you pain level should always be avoided, especially during an RA flare. Avoid lifting heavy weights and high impact activities such as running and jumping that would put increased stress on your joints should also be avoided. Remember to use pacing strategies(taking more frequent breaks) to help lower your fatigue level during activities.
Lauren Smith is a doctor of physical therapy at the Joint Mobility Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.