After more than a year of shuttered gyms and fitness studios and vulnerable seniors sheltering in place to avoid serious illness from COVID-19, many older adults may have experienced a decline in physical fitness, function and overall health. But as more seniors are fully vaccinated and the world begins to re-open, it’s time to schedule regular health screenings and start a plan to regain health and function losses or seniors may face poorer health and increased frailty.
According to a recent Washington Post report, many seniors have struggled with anxiety, sleep disruptions, social isolation, poor nutrition and muscle weakness during quarantine. Getting back on track will take an effort beginning by scheduling all the appointments that were missed in the past 15 months. Doctor, dentist, hearing, vision and other preventive care screenings are likely overdue but now that most seniors are vaccinated, it’s time to get those visits on the books.
If a loss of physical function is hindering the ability to perform daily activities such as getting dressed or climbing the stairs, a referral to a physical therapist may help older adults regain muscle loss, balance and range of motion. An occupational therapist can assess what assistive devices might improve safety and extend independent living. But patients may need to advocate for themselves or bring a trusted loved-one to appointments to ensure the proper referrals are made.
After long periods of sedentary behavior, it may take time to regain physical function and fitness. Start off slowly, with activities that feel safe and gradually increase duration and intensity. Even just 10 or 20 minutes of moderately paced walking will help improve fitness. Or try joining an online or in-person exercise class geared to older adults.
Eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein will also help support physical and emotional well-being. Protein is key to building muscle mass but many seniors do not consume enough protein.
Managing stress and anxiety is also an important foundation for good health and researchers have found that spending time outdoors in nature is beneficial for coping with stress. Being outside during daylight hours can also help support good sleep. Now that fully vaccinated people can spend time together in person, reconnecting with others socially will help combat isolation and loneliness.
With small steps over time, healthier diet choices and moving more will ensure a more active and independent lifestyle for seniors emerging from a long year of isolation and worry.