Avoiding Inactivity for Those Living in Long-Term Care Facilities Will Benefit Health and Well-Being

Keeping our bodies active will lead to a better quality of life, even for those living in long-term care facilities. The idea of using your body or losing it is real. Focusing on avoiding inactivity is vital in long-term care situations.

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Avoiding Inactivity for Those Living in Long-Term Care Facilities Will Benefit Health and Well-Being
5 Min Read September 28th, 2022

How active are you? The answer to that question often depends on your age and overall health. Inactivity increases with increasing age. 31 million Americans aged 50 or older are inactive, according to one study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While getting out for a walk might sound simple enough, those living in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes may face a myriad of challenges when looking to maintain a healthy level of activity.

Adults benefit from any amount of physical activity. Helping inactive people become more physically active is an important step towards healthier and more vibrant communities. 

Janet E. Fulton, Ph.D., chief of CDC's Physical Activity and Health Branch

Benefits and Challenges of Staying Active

Our skeletal muscles tend to wither and weaken as we get older. This is known as sarcopenia, which starts around age 40 and accelerates after 75. It is a major cause of disability in the elderly. Exercise helps counter the effects of age-related muscle loss. Otherwise, there are no established treatments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that insufficient physical activity causes around 3.2 million deaths each year worldwide, while older adults who exercise regularly are less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. However, getting active may not be simple for seniors living in long-term care facilities. 

2017 study found that several factors may be related to physical inactivity in long-term care facilities.

Factors of the physical environment that may be related to physical inactivity included, among others, the environment's compatibility with the abilities of a resident, the presence of equipment, the accessibility, security, comfort, and aesthetics of the environment/corridors, and possibly the presence of some specific areas.

The study suggested that the problem of inactivity could be improved by changes in the facility itself that promote the ability of residents to safely be active with the help of the professional staff within the facility. 

Residents typically had more activity on weekdays when more staff was available compared to weekends with smaller staff levels. Staff sometimes paid more attention to other duties or residents with more significant needs. The demands placed on the caregivers within the facility limited their ability to keep everyone as active as possible.

Scheduled vs. Regular Activity

For long-term facilities looking to get seniors more active, scheduling mandatory exercise or providing access to scheduled physical activity may seem the obvious way to go. One study, led by researchers from the University of the Basque Country in Leioa, Spain, found those who participated in a six-month exercise program had demonstrated benefits. This was a regular and well-organized program, and the results benefited the residents. 

The program consisted of individualized and progressive multi-component exercise at moderate intensity and found that those who participated experienced fewer falls than those in a control group that participated in regular activities. However, it's worth considering that older adults who are active throughout the day may be healthier than those who regularly exercise. This is primarily because those who only participate in scheduled exercise aren't likely to get enough movement throughout the rest of their day.   

Importance of Safety

While challenges that involve the physical environment can be overcome through various modifications that can be made within the facility itself. For example, making a workout room accessible for those in wheelchairs.

Finding the proper exercise routine for residents of long-term care facilities is essential in preventing inactivity. Every assisted living or nursing home resident has various limits and strengths. Older adults are generally more prone to falls and injury. As such, this makes it essential for each individual to be first evaluated by a doctor and physical therapist to determine the appropriate exercises. 

The important thing is that they move safely and make it a routine.

Jean Abustan, director of therapy at Hughes Health and Rehabilitation in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Finding the Right Fit

According to an article in U.S News and World Report, Dr. Shelley Bhattacharya, a geriatrician and associate professor with the University of Kansas Medical Center, says considering someone's limitations doesn't have to make finding an appropriate exercise routine impossible. 

For those that aren't able to stand for prolonged periods of time, you can always do the chair exercises.

For those who may be confined to a bed or wheelchair, finding a workout that can work for the individual can make a world of difference. Residents in long-term care facilities can work on building upper body strength by using compact and portable fitness tools like exercise bands.

These exercise bands, also known as resistance bands, work to improve strength. One study found that elastic-band resistance exercise can improve balance, gait function, and flexibility in older adults

Water Exercises

In addition to portable fitness tools, water exercises may present an option for some residents. Healthline notes that water allows gentler exercises for those who experience osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, balance, or joint issues. With a wide array of activities, such as arm lifts, leg kicks, jumping jacks, or simply walking in water, there is a lot of potential in adapting to a resident's abilities/needs.

Inactivity among older adults can have several consequences on one's health. For those living in long-term care facilities, getting active may present various challenges — physical and medical. By implementing regular exercise tailored to each resident's needs, reaping the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle can be made much simpler.

Avoiding Inactivity Starts Before You Get Older

Inactivity among older adults can have several consequences on one's health. For those living in long-term care facilities, getting active may present various challenges — physical and medical. By implementing regular exercise tailored to each resident's needs, reaping the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle can be made much simpler.

The CDC says regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging. Being active helps delay, prevent, or manage many costly, chronic diseases. Physical activity can also reduce the risk of premature death. 

Despite these benefits, 31 million adults aged 50 or older were inactive in 2014. Avoiding inactivity should start well before you get older and end up in a long-term care facility.

Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, such as brisk walking. The CDC says this activity can be spread over the week, for instance, for 30 minutes five times a day. Adults also should have days of activities that strengthen muscles. Adults aged 65 years and older should add activities to improve balance, such as standing on one foot.

The bottom line is some physical activity is better than none, whether you are age 59 and still working or age 75 and living in a long-term care facility.

Being active will not eliminate the need for long-term health care, but it can both delay your need for care and improve your overall quality of life when you do require care services.

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About the Author

Sally Phillips is a freelance writer with many years’ experience across many different areas. She enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and traveling as much as possible.

LTC News Contributor Sally Phillips

Sally Phillips

Contributor since November 4th, 2017

Editor's Note

You probably have noticed numerous changes in your body as you age. Once you have reached age 50, you will see more declining health, mobility problems, pain, dementia, and age-related frailty.

Not everyone will need long-term health care; however, the risk increases dramatically with longevity. Many of us will become dependent on others to maintain our everyday lifestyle and complete the daily activities we take for granted today.

The need for long-term health care isn't always dramatic, nor does it mean nursing homes. Most long-term care services are provided at home. The growing use of adult day care centers, assisted living facilities, and memory care diminishes the need for nursing homes.

Planning is vital, so you have the resources to pay for the increasing cost of long-term care services. Health insurance and Medicare will only pay for a small amount of skilled care, leaving you responsible for most of the expenses. These costs will be a financial strain and place stress and anxiety on family members.

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