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Improving mental & physical health of over 70’s during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way we live our day-to-day lives. Those over who have certain existing medical conditions have been asked to cocoon themselves to protect from the virus. We share the government’s concern for the health and safety of our older generation. We understand that the mental and physical effects of being isolated and indoors are difficult to face.

There are many ways to combat the mental and physical stress of cocooning, including eating healthy, practising mindfulness, keeping a consistent sleep schedule and engaging in physical activity. While this may seem like an impossibility while you’re stuck indoors, there are many ways to stay fit and active while you’re self-isolating.

Here are a few areas to focus on to improve your mental and physical health while complying with government and health service regulations.

Please remember to check with your doctor before exercising to ensure you are cleared for physical activity.

 

8 ways to improve your mental and physical health

Flexibility

How it benefits:

Enhances mobility and balance, improvement in posture, reduction in back pain and lessens the risk of injuries.

 

Watch out for:

Over-flexibility – can result in a higher risk of injuries and stretching without warming up can lead to pulled muscles.

You can warm up your muscles with simple jumps, a light jog, a brisk walk. Make sure you are comfortable and listen to your body.

Increased flexibility, particularly as we get older, is essential to preventing injury and supporting long-term fitness. Get into the habit of practising daily stretching and you will be amazed at how quickly it will improve your posture and mobility.

 

What to try:

  • Stretching: Create a gentle stretching routine you can do once or twice a day. Choose 3-5 stretches that suit your level of mobility, hold each for at least a count of 30 seconds. Click here to view a list of 9 simple stretches seniors should perform every day.
  • Gentle Yoga: Yoga is a great way to be active and increase your flexibility. It is very beneficial for your mental health as it teaches mindfulness and relaxation practices. If you aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of beginner yoga videos on YouTube that can help you get going.

elderly woman exercising

Balance

How it benefits:

Improved stability, reduced risk of falls and increases core strength.

 

Watch out for:

Overconfidence – balance training without a spotter or method of support can be dangerous and lead to falls.

Good balance is very important for people over 70, who are more prone to injuries and falls. Balance training focuses on increasing core strength, which also can improve posture and decrease back pain.

 

What to try:

  • Tai Chi and Qi Gong: are both activities that focus on balance in a gentle and mindful way. These practices involve slow and focused movement, concentrating as well on mindfulness and breathing. Click here to view 3 Tai Chi exercise videos specifically for the elderly.
  • Simple balance exercises: such as standing on one foot or squatting to a chair will effectively build strength. Be sure to have someone or something close by for support to prevent any injuries.

elderly womans doing balancing exercises

Cardio

How it benefits:

Lower risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. A reduction in blood pressure, inflammation reduction, decreases bad cholesterol and enhances mobility.

 

Watch out for:

Over-exertion – which can result in injury and breathing difficulties.

Scarlett McNally, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Eastbourne District General Hospital, strongly recommends regular cardio and strength building exercises for the elderly to improve their strength and balance so that they’re less likely to fall or break bones as cardio improves bone density.

For many of us, cardio is an intimidating term used for professional athletes and marathon runners. However, you don’t need to be covered in sweat, or running for hours, to give your cardiovascular system the workout it needs. Even 15-30 minutes per day of mild to moderate activity can bring a wide range of benefits like; better circulation, increased insulin sensitivity, and reduction in blood pressure.

 

What to try:

  • Indoor activities: such as walking briskly around the house, climbing the stairs, doing lunges or even dancing to your favourite music.
  • Outdoor activities: including gardening or going for a brisk walk if you have space.

Man gardening

 

Strength

How it benefits:

Fewer injuries increased stamina and stronger bone density.

 

Watch out for:

Using poor fitness techniques – such as arching your back or bending your neck as they can cause long-term injuries. Also, be careful of using too much weight as this can also cause injuries and harm.

Suzanne Andrews, President of Healthwise Exercises says “After 60, you lose 3% a year, which comes out to about 4.5 pounds of muscle strength per year. Strength training helps you regain the muscle you lost and helps your cells remain younger since exercise slows cell ageing.”

Strength training is not all about lifting the biggest weights – in fact, in many ways, bodyweight activities at home are just as beneficial as using weight machines at the gym.

 

What to try:

  • Upper body: try doing modified push-ups standing up against a wall or on your knees on the floor if that suits you. You can also exercise with things around the house, such as doing shoulder presses or arm lifts with a water bottle in each hand.
  • Lower body: simple exercises such as squats and lunges are hugely beneficial to lower body strength. If you have stairs, you can do step-ups or toe-raises to work the lower body.

elderly woman strength training

Mindfulness

How it benefits:

Improves mood, sleep and mental health.

 

Watch out for:

Being too serious – don’t get stressed about not being calm.

Our mental health has such a large impact on our physical health, and it’s easy to forget to take care of our minds during stressful times such as these. Mindfulness gives us a way to focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about things we can’t control.

 

What to try:

  • Meditation: is a simple but effective way to calm the mind and re-centre ourselves. Apps such as Calm and Headspace can help introduce you to the basics of meditation and mindfulness and will help you create positive mental health habits.
  • Hobbies: such as painting, playing music or gardening can be part of practising mindfulness. Find something that not only requires focus, but also brings you joy, and you will feel the positive effects of mindful practice.

Diet

How it benefits:

Increased energy levels, improves sleep and mood, decreases cholesterol and blood pressure.

 

Watch out for:

Vitamin deficiency – make sure you are getting a balanced diet as well as a healthy one and take multi-vitamins.

It is no secret that your diet has a huge effect on both physical and mental health. In times like these, it is difficult to remain strict about our diets, particularly when we are required to stay at home and don’t have easy access to the shops. However, it is important to be both mindful and reasonable about our diet during this period of cocooning, to keep healthy and happy.

 

What to try:

  • Drink plenty of fluids: It is vital for the elderly to drink at least 2 litres of water a day. Dehydration can cause pains, cramps, as well as feeling fatigued.
  • Convenient delivery services: Many shops and supermarkets are rolling out delivery services, particularly for seniors and people with conditions that make them vulnerable. Set up a regular delivery service for your shopping so that you can receive a consistent supply of fresh fruit and veg even though you can’t leave the house.
  • Rewards: Set up a reward system for yourself involving some of the activities above. Allow yourself a treat or two after you have finished your daily activities.

 

healthy eating for the elderly

Social Connections

How it benefits:

Improves mood and mental health.

 

Watch out for:

Overload of negative news and too much screen time.

Long-term isolation and social distancing can take its toll on our mental health. Make sure to keep in touch with your friends and family on a regular basis via phone or video calling, but don’t forget to give yourself some alone time too!

 

What to try:

  • Keep in touch: Set up a weekly catch-up call with family and friends. Apps such as WhatsApp and Zoom are useful tools to help you stay connected if you have a mobile phone.
  • Social media breaks: Schedule a few no-screen hours for yourself. Spending some time away from the news and constant updates on social media will help you to stay in the present moment and appreciate the social time even more.

elderly woman video calling family

 

Sleep

How it benefits:

Improves mood, increases metabolism and improves energy levels.

 

Watch out for:

Inconsistent bedtimes and too much caffeine.

Sleep is one of the most influential factors in our overall health and wellbeing. One bad night’s sleep can be detrimental to a wide range of internal body processes and can leave you feeling irritable. Changes in your sleep cycle can also disrupt your circadian rhythm, slowing down your metabolism and negating the positive physical and mental health practices we’ve suggested above.

 

What to try:

  • Consistent sleep routine: Make bedtime and stick to it. Try to be as consistent as possible with your sleep schedule and you will quickly find that you are waking up more refreshed and with more energy.
  • Invest in an adjustable bed: Many of us are unable to get to sleep or stay asleep because our bodies are not comfortable. Specialised mattresses offering extra support in certain places or adjustable beds to facilitate mobility issues can ensure that you can get a full night’s sleep and wake up without the usual aches and pains.

“An adjustable bed can vastly improve sleep for the elderly which will have a positive impact on overall health, energy and quality of life. The right mattress, materials, frame and controls make all the difference. We can craft a bed and mattress to suit your needs to ensure you enjoy maximum comfort and get your best night’s sleep.” Maryrose Fitzpatrick, The Natural Sleep Company.

Download our adjustable beds’ brochure or contact us for expert advice on which mattress, bedframe and controls suit your specific needs.

elderly woman sleeping

Although it is very frustrating to be self-isolating and cocooning, we must remember that the most important thing is the safety of ourselves, our friends and our family.

Turn the frustration of being cocooned into a way to build habits and routines in your day to day life. This will help improve your overall health and wellbeing.

While it will be difficult to stay motivated to use small attainable short-term goals to stay motivated. You can also ask your friends and family to help keep you on track.