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Use it or lose it: safe exercise at home

Leading Australian physiotherapists have developed a new website to support older Australians who wish to stay active while at home.

The website, which is called Safe Exercise at Home, was developed in the face of COVID-19 restrictions when a majority of the population was in lockdown. However, the website remains just as useful for anyone with mobility issues or who simply wants to exercise without leaving the house.

The website, accessible via desktop or mobile, provides information and instructional videos at three different levels of function and fitness – Foundation, Moderate and Advanced – as well as tips on staying motivated and safe while exercising at home.

Tips include:

  • Having someone – or a phone – nearby when exercising
  • Listening to your body 
  • The importance of following up on pain or discomfort
  • Resuming activity and exercise more slowly after minor illnesses like colds.

Clinical physiotherapist Rik Dawson, a Director of the Australian Physiotherapy Association and part of the website development team, said many of his older patients had been asking for safe ways to exercise at home.

“This website gives them the exercise advice they need with easy-to-follow videos,” Mr Dawson said. “It gives them the choice to start with some simple exercise programs and then allows them to choose more challenging programs to build up their strength and balance.”

The website also includes motivation from older adults who mastered “staying active” during the pandemic, including 82-year-old Judy who completes a daily home exercise program, as well as walks with her carer using her walking frame.

“Your attitude will determine how well you do, so try to keep positive. Avoid focusing on health problems or discussing them too much, and know that you can improve,” Judy says.

According to the Choose Health: Be Active – A physical activity guide for older Australians booklet developed by the Australian Government in association with Sports Medicine Australia, older Australians should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days. Physical activity, it points out, has the following benefits. 

  • Gives you more energy
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Helps you to relax
  • Is fun
  • Tones your body
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves concentration
  • Improves self-confidence
  • Reduces feelings of sadness

“Try to be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of activities that incorporate fitness, strength, flexibility and balance,” the booklet says.

Some ideas for doing so include:

  • Fitness: Brisk walking, continuous swimming, golf (no cart!), aerobics, cycling, washing the car, walking the dog, garden work, tennis, water aerobics, dancing, mopping and vacuuming.
  • Strength: Weight, strength or resistance exercises, lifting and carrying (e.g. groceries or small children), climbing stairs (instead of taking the lift or escalator), moderate yard work, and calisthenics (e.g. push-ups or sit-ups).
  • Flexibility: Tai chi, bowls, stretching exercises, yoga, dancing, and gardening.

You can access the Choose Health: Be Active – A physical activity guide for older Australians booklet here

University of Sydney Professor Cathie Sherrington, another member of the Safe Exercise at Home website development team, further discusses the risks associated with lack of exercise.

“When people are less active, they risk losing functional abilities and will be at increased risk of falls,” Professor Sherrington says.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to exercise it really is ‘use it or lose it’.”