06/05/2013 12:19 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

The Best Medicine

In a retirement community or health-care facility, potential liability can be found in the least likely of settings -- the threshold of a door, the step into an elevator or a frail hand searching for balance on the back of an unoccupied chair. When caring for our elders, it's critical to understand that it doesn't take much to generate a fall. And all too often a fall can lead to more serious health issues. And fall prevention is what led one retirement community to offer Tae Bo to their residents.

"At first I was a little, um -- surprised," says Kelly Stranburg, a three-time winner of ALFA's Best of the Best award. "Then I took a deep breath, applauded management for thinking outside the box then created an alternative wellness program that would actually be utilized, accepted and beneficial. Tae Bo is such a great workout but it was much too daunting for this particular group of elders. The residents didn't actually participate in the Tae Bo classes so we came up with a program that they would use."

As our bodies age past our retirement years, it becomes harder to retain muscle mass and with it, balance, coordination, mobility, cardiovascular health, range of motion, etc. Even a small amount of daily aerobic exercise can pay big dividends. It may also help stave off Alzheimer's as well as a host of other age-related maladies. It's not always the easiest medicine to prescribe, yet it comes with a host of benefits.

"In our country's health-care facilities and/or retirement communities there's still an attitude that good health comes through pharmaceuticals and supplements; yet proper nutrition and daily exercise create more positive benefits and results and there's little if any negative side effects. A proper and carefully-crafted wellness program won't come with an FDA warning label or frightening side effects such as potential suicidal thoughts, serious skin reactions, insomnia, loss of appetite, or night terrors."

Chair and water-based exercise programs are what one should look for in a retirement community. A four-foot-deep pool can provide a lot of opportunity for aerobic enjoyment, and the water adds resistance without adding impact.

"A few years ago I created a pool-based aerobic program for dementia patients that were also suffering from Sundowner's Syndrome and the results were across the board positive. We documented less anxiety, increased lower body strength, improved appetites, and increase in ability to perform activities of daily living such as dressing themselves."

And keep in mind that all these benefits come without that litany of frightening side effects. My own mother is in a memory care facility and in the final stage of Alzheimer's. She was always one to exercise -- even when she only had time for a half-mile walk, she did it. When she retired she became a regular at a local aerobics studio and did that for many years. Her exercise regimen didn't prevent this awful disease, yet it may have slowed the onset of Alzheimer's or lessened its impact. If she didn't have regular exercise, perhaps her dementia would have shown up much earlier or taken hold quicker.

As we age, it's imperative to remain active and mobile to retain our independence. As the baby boomers move into their retirement years they should seek out opportunities to exercise and be active. It may just help us stave off age-related diseases, complications and disorders.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.