How to Motivate the Elderly to Exercise

Feeling motivated to exercise can be a challenge for any age group. It is easy to find any excuse to do something – anything – other than exercise. This is especially true for the elderly, who may find exercising intimidating, don’t know where to start, or don’t feel there are any exercises they can do. Sometimes it may simply seem like there are just too many barriers to physical activities for the elderly to overcome. Don’t be discouraged, though. There are some simple things you can do to help motivate the elderly, and promote health and wellness in late adulthood.Image of Front view of senior man exercising with resistance band in fitness studio

Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity

Before helping them off the couch, talk to your elderly friend or relative and explain the importance of exercising. Exercise, even something as simple as walking, offers a myriad of physical and mental health benefits. Exercise helps reduce stress and, by tiring out the body, can help promote better sleep. Regular exercise helps body functions improve, reducing the risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Exercise also improves mobility, flexibility and endurance as well as balance. In the long run, developing these skills reduces the chance of a fall and can lessen symptoms of arthritis.

Another barrier to exercise in older adults that may keep them on the couch may be their perception of exercise in general. Television commercials and ads on the internet make exercising appear to be an extreme sport. But you don’t need an hour of intense cardio-dance videos or yoga flows that twist you into pretzels to reap the many benefits of exercises. There are many simple exercises that the elderly can do from the comfort of their living room, some while relaxing in your favorite armchair. And remember, no one – including older adults – should go from no exercise to an enormous amount of exercise. Whatever exercise program you choose, start slowly, perhaps thirty minutes three times a week. If this is too intense, try shorter amounts of time or take breaks. As the exercises become easier, the length of time and repetitions per week can increase.

No one likes to exercise alone. If your elderly friend or relative is struggling to find the motivation to exercise on their own, join them. Exercising can become an even more social activity by looking for a nearby gym. Many gyms, fitness centers, and community centers have programs specifically for the elderly, like the Silver Sneakers program. By visiting a gym or taking a class designed for older adults, exercising becomes a social event which benefits the elderly both physically and mentally by fighting off loneliness and getting them out of the house.

Don’t forget to set a goal! A goal doesn’t have to be something big, for example, “run the Philadelphia marathon.” It can be something simple like, “next week I will walk two minutes longer per day than I did this week.” Write the goal down somewhere visible to keep it in mind and definitely brag to everyone once it is accomplished.

As with any change or addition to the lifestyle of an elderly person, a physician should always be consulted. Your physician knows your health best, and can help you find an exercise program that is right for you. He or she may suggest specific activities to try, or give you advice on what to avoid. There are many options, and you physician will be happy to help you find your perfect exercise plan.