Is It Safe for Seniors to Return to the Gym?

In recent years there has been a lot of research highlighting the importance of exercise for seniors. For example, we have learned that, contrary to popular belief, weakness and poor balance are linked to inactivity rather than age.

As the COVID-19/novel coronavirus pandemic has swept the globe, we are also acutely aware of the increased risk that the virus poses to individuals over the age of 60. According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older.

Gyms are beginning to reopen as a growing number of communities ease the stay-at-home mandates put in place to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many seniors are now facing a dilemma about the risks of exposure to COVID-19 and the risks of prolonged periods of inactivity, which can include loss of bone density, muscle mass and cardio strength. 

Fortunately, there are several options for those looking to stay home and stay fit. There are several resources that offer at home fitness programs designed for the 50+ crowd.  For example, AARP.org offers links to several video-based exercise routines and many local retirement communities have taken their activity and fitness programs online with platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, which can be a great way to meet other people (virtually).  See what type of programming is available at communities that you may be interested in learning more about for yourself or a loved one.  You can also contact your local YMCA and, of course, your own physician for recommendations about effective movements and activity that you can do safely at home.

If you do make the choice to head back to the gym, the following guidelines are recommended by the CDC.

Wash hands often

  • Everyone should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds at the beginning and end of the visit and whenever you think your hands may have become contaminated.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, such as with outdoor activities, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Remind guests to wash or sanitize their hands before serving or eating food.
  • Use single-use hand towels or paper towels for drying hands so visitors do not share towels. Have a no-touch trash can available for guests to use.
  • Always speak with your physician before beginning any type of exercise routine.

Northwest Winter Safety Tips for Seniors

During the winter months, slippery sidewalks and cold weather can cause a wide range of injuries and illnesses, especially for seniors. The following tips will help prevent common cold-weather dangers faced by the elderly population.

  1. Avoid slipping on ice. Icy, snowy roads and sidewalks make it easy to slip and fall. These falls often cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and major lacerations. Make sure to wear shoes with good traction and nonskid soles, and stay indoors until the roads are clear.
  2. Dress for warmth. Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, a condition in which the body temperature dips too low. According to the CDC, people over the age of 65 are at greater risk of hypothermia-related death. So limit the time spent outdoors and dress in multiple layers with a good head covering.
  3. Fight wintertime depression. Because it can be difficult and dangerous to get around, many seniors have less contact with others during cold months. This can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation. To help avoid these issues, family members can check in on seniors as often as possible. A short, daily phone call can also make a big difference. Seniors can arrange a check-in system with neighbors and friends, with each person looking in on one or two others daily.
  4. Check the car. Driving during the winter can be hazardous for anyone. But it is especially dangerous for older people, who may no longer drive as often or whose reflexes may not be as quick as they once were. Get your car serviced before wintertime hits—or ask a family member to take it to a garage for you.
  5. Prepare for power outages. Winter storms can lead to power outages. Make sure you have easy access to flashlights and a battery-powered radio in case the power goes out. Stockpile warm blankets. Longer power outages can spoil the food in your refrigerator and freezer so keep a supply of nonperishable foods on hand that can be eaten cold. If the power goes out, wear several layers of clothing, including a hat. Move around a lot to raise your body temperature. Check out this winter weather checklist from the CDC to make sure you have everything you may need: cdc.gov/disasters/winter
  6. Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Using a fireplace, gas heater or lanterns can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Ensure your safety by checking the batteries on your carbon monoxide detector and buying an updated one if you need to. The most important tip to keep in mind during the colder months is to ask for help. Arrange rides to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments—many communities have shuttle services specifically for seniors. Don’t be afraid to reach out or help.
  7. ICE (in case of emergency). For seniors who live alone and their long-distance care team: Print out a contact card/in case of emergency card for your senior to give to trusted neighbors, landlords, clergy, and so on to easily locate family members (or power of attorney) should an issue arise.

Wintertime certainly poses challenges for seniors, but with planning and awareness, you will stay healthy and experience the joys of springtime soon enough.

BY KELLY LENIHAN