By Caring.com Staff
If you were to do just one thing to reduce your odds of developing dementia, diabetes, heart disease or obesity, science increasingly says it should be: Move more! Caregiver bonus: Exercise offloads stress and boosts mood, too. (Always check with your doctor before beginning any new fitness routine.)
1. Flash mobs
"Flash mobs" are viral-triggered activities in which strangers converge in one place to perform a particular activity, often a dance routine, which they've practiced together or separately. "Training mobs" is the concept's new spin – groups that gather in the same way to spontaneously work out, showing up in a certain spot when given the signal.
Obviously a caregiver can't drop everything to participate on a moment's (or text message's) notice, but if your loved one is still active, it can be a fun, if unorthodox, activity to share now and then. Even assisted living centers have gotten in on the act with their own flash-mob dances.
Great for: Livening up your workouts, feeding spontaneity, trying something new
Start here: FlashMob America is a nationwide clearinghouse for these groups.
Flash mobs can happen in assisted living communities, too:
2. Advocacy walks
To really walk with purpose, try walking for a cause. Many health advocacy organizations sponsor group walks to raise funds or awareness for their causes. Some participants stretch out the health benefit year-round by doing practice walks with friends as training, then joining the big event as a group.
Great for: Doing good while feeling good, camaraderie while you exercise
Start here: Avon Walks for Breast Cancer are held in multiple locations around the U.S.; the company provides training tools such as training logs and organized walks in your area. The Alzheimer's Association's Walk to End Alzheimer's is actually composed of many smaller walks on different dates.
If walking isn't your speed, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program trains cyclists, marathoners, and triathletes to compete on behalf of LLS, providing individual coaching and fund-raising expertise.
Here's a bit more about Team in Training:
3. Walking tours
If you're bored walking around your block, or you want to try something new when traveling, look into walking tours. Many communities and nature parks offer self-guided tours you can easily follow with a map. Or try downloading a smartphone app that guides your way.
Great for: Exercising while traveling
Start here: Stray Boots Urban Game is part walking tour, part treasure hunt – walkers answer questions and take photos as they stroll. It's available in many major cities, neighborhoods, and museums. Another resource is National Geographic.com, which offers walking tours of Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas, among many others. Frommer's has a few great walking tours, too, including Chicago, San Francisco and Santa Fe. Try typing "walking tour" and your town's name into Google to find something near you. Check out this walking tour of Ellicott City, Maryland:
4. Targeted fitness programs
It can be hard to know where to start at your local gym. Ask if it offers a class, program, or training that caters to your age group or fitness level. Membership in a Silver Sneakers fitness program, for example, provides group classes, individual routines, pool access, online tracking tools, and more to qualifying Medicare recipients and retirees via their health plans. (A medical clearance is required.) It's available at 11,000 fitness centers, gyms, YMCAs and Curves branches nationwide.
Great for: Personalized fitness programming, including aerobic and strength training; getting out and meeting others
Start here: Call your insurer to find out if you qualify such a program, or use the Silver Sneakers Health Plan Locator tool. Check locally for independent programs, too, like California-based Agile Aging, which emphasizes balance and range of motion and can be done seated or standing. Here's a Silver Sneakers class in action:
Easier to do in the privacy of your own home or group center are active gaming systems that emphasize physical activity. Pick the movements that appeal to you: yoga, Pilates, balance and strength training, bowling, or aerobics are just some of the options. Wii bowling leagues have sprung up in community centers, retirement communities, and adult day programs.
Great for: Moderate exercise when you can't get out or are in hospital rehab, measuring progress through scoring and other incentives
Start here: The Nintendo Wii platform offers sport-specific games, as well as other programs such as My Personal Trainer and Zumba Fitness (a dance game). Here's an NBC story about seniors playing Wii:
6. Tai chi
Virtually anyone can do this gentle, graceful form of exercise – sometimes called "meditation in motion" – which is why it's one of the fastest-growing physical activities worldwide. A series of stretches and rhythmic movements based on a Chinese martial art, tai chi is performed slowly, at your own pace, with a focus on breathing patterns. One move flows into the next, so you're constantly moving. A June 2012 study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that older Chinese adults who practiced tai chi three times a week increased brain volume and improved cognition over eight months.
Great for: Stress reduction, stretching, improving balance, reducing pain, reducing the risk of falling
Start here: Watch the tai chi online instructional videos at the Arthritis Foundation's website. Or look for classes at your local community center, YMCA/YWCA, or fitness center. Tai chi can be done alone, but it's great to learn from an instructor. See the simple beauty of tai chi in motion:
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Image via Flickr Creative Commons / DolfinDans