A year away from gyms, organized sports, and fitness classes have left many adults with a few extra pounds and softer than usual mid-sections. Seniors may have also lost muscle strength that can be difficult to regain and make independent living a challenge. With so many months in isolation, some frail elderly adults may require physical therapy to recover the physical function they had before the pandemic.
Without regular exercise that includes strength and balance training, older adults are at increased risk for falls leading to injury. Because so many seniors got off-track on their dietary habits, medication management, and regular health screenings, health care providers are seeing a worsening of chronic health conditions like diabetes, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When older patients are feeling weaker, are not eating a nutritious diet, or drinking enough water, they may also gain or lose weight. The incidence of depression has also risen among people of all ages during the pandemic. But as the world begins to reopen, there will be more opportunities to regain losses and start on a path to better health, mobility, and overall well-being.
Beginning after middle age, adults lose on average 3 percent of their muscle strength each year. Periods of inactivity, an unbalanced diet, inflammation, and stress worsen muscle loss among older adults. Studies have found that prolonged bed rest in elderly patients can significantly speed up muscle loss and decrease strength. Young adults may lose 1 percent of muscle mass per day on bed rest while elderly adults may lose up to 5 percent per day.
Inactivity not only causes weakness and frailty, but seniors who aren’t moving enough may also develop stiffness in muscles, ligaments, and tendons. With regular strength training exercises done 2 to 4 times a week and walking or cycling most days of the week, along with a healthy diet rich in lean protein, sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass and strength) can be reversed.
Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program or taking any supplements and start off slowly, gradually increasing intensity and duration over time. Enlist a friend or family member to stay motivated and keep moving more each day – even 15 minutes of aerobic exercise each day can help prevent muscle loss. Read more about how to fight sarcopenia by following this link to a recent Healthline report.