Keeping PACE – Keep on Moving

seniors snow walk

Ryan Miller, Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E.

Making our physical and mental health a priority can be a challenge any time of the year. Record snow fall, polar vortexes, and black ice can all amp up the difficulty and be motivation drainers. This month I sat down with Ryan Langejans, PT, Cert MDT. Ryan is a Physical Therapist with Mary Free Bed Kalamazoo Southwest. He has been a Physical Therapist for over 20 years with significant experience and expertise in outpatient rehabilitation, spine physical therapy, and chronic pain rehabilitation. We discussed the challenges of staying active despite the cold of January and February and the best ways to stay active, no matter our age. Considering our shared first name, I’ve outlined this month’s ‘Keeping PACE’ conversation using our last names.

Miller: The colder winter weather in Michigan can make exercising and staying active more difficult. What advice would you give to those of us dealing with icy roads, snow drifts, and sub-zero temperatures to be able to remain active, safely?

Langejans: With the arrival of the cold weather, it is easy for all of us to become more sedentary – unfortunately, to the detriment of our spine and overall health. One of the best ways to maintain our health over the winter is by engaging in a daily walking program. This can be done inside, even if you live in a small home.  In fact, I have had patients who on their own volition walked back and forth in a standard-sized room. I even heard of people running or training for a marathon in their home/apartment during the Covid pandemic lockdown! I often encourage people to put on music or TV while they are walking. If getting out of the house is preferred, consider going to a large “box” store or the mall for walking.

Miller: Speaking of walking and the outdoors, do you have any words of wisdom or caution for that activity?

Langejans: If you choose to walk outside, you need to be careful about ice. We often recommend “Yaktrax” or snow cleats. These are relatively inexpensive. The cleats are placed over your walking shoes. They do an excellent job keeping you safer on ice and reducing the likelihood of slips and falls.

Miller: Cold weather is not the only factor that presents a challenge to maximize the benefits of movement. Sometimes age can limit what activities we can partake in or the level at which one can participate. Injury, disability, mobility limitations, and recent surgeries could also present challenges or changes to one’s routine. What would you say to someone that says, “I can’t exercise the way(s) I did in the past.”?

Langejans: For those that might feel discouraged that they cannot exercise like they used to, I am sorry. I wish that wasn’t the case. When we are faced with a choice like this, we can either embrace the challenge before us and exercise to maintain/improve our quality of life or we let ourselves continue to decline. It has been my experience, personally and professionally, that much of what is thought of as “old age” decline if often deconditioning and not entirely inevitable. You may be surprised how good you feel with consistent, daily exercise! Some may find that walking is limited by pain, weakness, or shortness of breath. Some may discover they can walk only 2-3 minutes before increased pain. If that is the case for you, start your daily walking program at 2-3 minutes and increase by one minute each week. You may be surprised by the results!

Miller: What are the biggest benefits of regular movement or exercise for seniors?

Langejans: Some may ask, “is there really much of a benefit from exercise/walking,” “will I really feel a difference,” “is it worth the time spent every day to exercise.” My answer to these questions is “YES!” We have countless patients that come to our clinic in the spring because they were sedentary all winter and developed spine-related pain/symptoms. Being active helps our spines. Walking, specifically, can help a number of things including decreasing risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. It can also help us feel better mentally.

Thank you to Ryan Langejans for his advice and practical suggestions to stay active during our Michigan winter. I have often heard the adages “use it or lose it” and “motion is lotion”. It sounds like these both apply to the importance of making movement and exercise a part of our lives. Don’t compare your exercise regimen or activity level to others. Do what you can, when you can, and how you can.

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