Father’s Day is around the corner. If you’re anything like me, you may be wondering what to get Dad. My father no longer wears ties to work– so that’s out–and probably has three “back-up” wallets I’ve given him over the last several years. So, maybe this year is the year to give him something for his fitness. Here are some suggestions:
A pedometer. Walking has so many benefits. Studies have shown it to be useful for people with chronic conditions from osteoporosis to heart disease. Keeping track of steps can be a motivator to get out and get healthy while enjoying the spring weather. As we begin to face the warmer, more humid summer weather, walking is still a beneficial activity but may need to be done at a gym or other indoor, climate-controlled space.
A heart rate monitor or app. In the healthy population over age 65, the minimum recommended amount of cardiovascular activity is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity performed five days a week. It is also okay for the older adult to break up the allotted time into shorter sessions throughout the day. Taking a 10-minute walk, three times a day may be more manageable and a great starting point.
Monitoring heart rate can be a useful tool to gauge exertion. (Keep in mind that certain medications, like beta blockers, can blunt the heart rate response to exercise, making a perceived exertion scale a more practical choice. The Borg scale, for example, would be more useful but may be a less-than-exciting gift idea.)
Free weights or resistance bands. There is something to be said about the whole “use it or lose it” adage. Strength training is particularly important in the osteoporotic population; however, it needs to be increased gradually and performed correctly to avoid increasing the risk of fracture.
When it comes to strength training for the older adult, the recommendation is to increase resistance to a point where a person is able to lift a given weight eight times. When able to comfortably complete a set of 10-15 repetitions, it is time to increase the resistance.
Tai Chi DVD or class card. Balance training has been found to prevent falls and reduce the risk of injury with falling. Classes in a group setting can be a helpful way of challenging the balance while engaging in a social context. If Tai Chi isn’t an exciting option, feel free to think outside the box. My parents recently took up ballroom dancing. What a great way to build balance, improve coordination, and get to problem solve as a team!
(Warning: I have become a bystander for discussions as to whether you’re supposed to step with the left foot on count two or three...And who exactly is supposed to be leading?)
Stretch strap. Flexibility training is another key component to an activity plan for the young-at-heart adult. It is recommended that stretches last 10-30 seconds and be performed at least twice a week. The stretch should be completed without pain or over-stretching. In my practice, I have found a stretch strap to be useful to achieve a muscle stretch without over-stressing joints or the low back.
As with any age group, something is better than nothing. If a person is unable to meet the recommended amount of activity due to a decline in health status, it is still beneficial to do as much exercise as tolerated. A doctor should help set guidelines for activity to safely initiate a new exercise program. Start small and progress gradually to ensure success. It is also never too late to start moving. So get moving on that perfect fitness-related gift for Dad.
Jennifer Zellers, P.T., D.P.T., received her degree from Columbia University and is an advanced clinician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.