There are many wonderful things about getting older: gaining perspective and wisdom, watching children grow up and start families of their own, and generally enjoying the fruits of many years of investment and labor. It’s no secret, though, that there are also many challenges that come with aging, and one of those challenges is that our bodies don’t quite work the way they used to. There are more checkups, more symptoms and complaints, higher health risks—and among all these, decreased mobility.
As we age, we lose muscle mass, our joints may stiffen, and diseases or long-standing conditions may cause pain or affect the functioning of our nervous system. These issues can result in difficulty walking or getting in and out of chairs or bed, or increased risk of falling. In addition to safety risks, decreased mobility can have a serious detrimental effect on one’s quality of life. Being unable to dress or bathe oneself can cause embarrassment and a sense of powerlessness. Seniors may find visiting family members forced to run errands or perform basic tasks at the expense of simply enjoying their company. All this can raise the risk of sinking into a depression—which is a physical health risk as well as emotional.
In some cases, there are ways to work around the problem—assistive devices, such as walkers or wheelchairs; elevators; remote-controlled adjustable beds and armchairs, etc. But these solutions are band-aids; they can’t compare to treating the problem at the root and achieving increased independence for people by getting their bodies to function better. And there is a way to treat the problem at the root. Physical activity and exercise has been proven to dramatically increase mobility, reduce health risks, and improve quality of life in the elderly. But how can someone who already has trouble moving engage in physical activity?
That’s where mobility specialists like Shoshana Shinnar come in. Shoshana is certified as an exercise physiologist with a specialty in working with arthritis and the elderly. She worked as a dietitian for 40 years, but when she made Aliyah, she noticed that there were many people suffering from limitations she knew were unnecessary. Observing people on the street, she would think: “If only they would do this or that exercise daily, they wouldn’t have so much trouble walking.” She started working with friends she had met, and was so successful, she decided to dedicate herself to working with elderly Anglos in Jerusalem and the surrounding area to improve their mobility.
Shoshana sees clients in their homes and carries out an initial evaluation of their situation—including an assessment of the home environment, such as rugs and furniture, to ensure maximum safety and fall prevention. Once she understands the clients’ limitations and challenges, she develops a personal exercise plan to meet their needs. The exercises she teaches are based on years of research and successful application by the AFAA (Aerobic and Fitness Association of America), and are designed to increase muscle tone, improve balance and enhance flexibility while remaining gentle, safe and practical for people who already suffer from limited mobility. She often employs simple household objects—like a broomsticks—as equipment for the exercises.
For example, for clients who have difficulty getting up from a chair, Shoshana might recommend leg extensions (straightening the leg, flexing the foot and pointing it toward the ceiling while sitting on a chair) or hip marching (lifting each leg, with the knee bent, as high as comfortable while sitting in a chair) to target the thigh and leg muscles. For clients who have difficulty walking due to balance issues, she might recommend practicing standing on one foot near a chair or a wall for support to prevent falling. She also encourages her clients to engage in fun physical activities together with friends or partners: flying kites, playing catch, or going for a walk or a swim together are all great ways to get moving while enjoying each other’s company.
“I once worked with a client, around 55 years old, who claimed to have a problem with her balance, and for years needed two guys to help her get up two flights of stairs to her friend’s sukkah. In my assessment, I identified a different problem, and assigned her exercises to do for 5 minutes every day. A few months later she called me up and told me that this year, she ‘forgot’ that she needed help and brought the food up to her friend’s sukkah by herself. Only when she knocked on the door did they remind her that in the past she had needed help!”
Shoshana Shinnar is the founder of Ow to Wow, a service that provides training to aging English speakers in Jerusalem and the surrounding area to help them regain mobility and independence. Shoshana can be reached at 058-612-2014 or through her website ow-to-wow.co