Elderly people need more physical, mental exercise amid pandemic

The second Respect for the Aged Day during the pandemic has arrived Sept. 20. Society as a whole must show consideration for the elderly, so that their health does not deteriorate as they refrain from going out.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and other sources, there are 36.4 million people aged 65 or over in Japan, a record high for this nation and accounting for 29% of the entire population. The number of people aged 100 or over is also at an all-time high of 86,500.

It is wonderful to be one of the world’s top countries for longevity. It is important to minimize as much as possible the impact of the prolonged novel coronavirus pandemic on the lives and health of the elderly.

JMA Research Institute Inc. is comparing the health of elderly people before and after the outbreak of the pandemic, based on local government surveys.

According to the data, respondents who said they were worried about falling down or had lost more than 2 to 3 kilograms in a six-month period increased in fiscal 2020 from fiscal 2019. The surveys also showed an increase in the number of people who said they lacked a sense of fulfillment in their daily lives, showing a tendency toward depression.

It is believed that elderly people tend to stay at home to mitigate the risk of infection, and that has affected their health.

Other generations probably have fewer opportunities to go out as well. However, in the case of senior citizens, it should be noted that such a lifestyle could more easily lead to mental and physical frailty. It could also increase the number of people requiring nursing care.

It is important to provide them with opportunities to exercise and interact with others, while being careful to prevent infections, to reduce the impact of the pandemic on their bodies and minds.

Toraianguru Taimu, a residents group in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, has been offering activities in which participants do exercises and chat with elderly people at such places as public facilities. Since the pandemic began, they have set up an online environment and senior citizens and others are taking part in these activities from home, according to the group.

It is meaningful to have activities in which the elderly can participate, in keeping with their physical condition and mood.

Since last spring, a group of students at Osaka University has been issuing a monthly newsletter called Yorisoitai Tsushin for elderly people living alone. Both sides of the A3-size newsletter carry messages for the elderly from the group members, who are concerned about their health.

The group distributes the newsletter to about 140 households in cooperation with the Japan National Council of Social Welfare and local volunteers. Interacting with young people will also bring cheer to senior citizens.

Lifestyles that require vigilance against the coronavirus will likely continue for the time being.

To safeguard the health of the elderly, it is desirable to reduce the time spent sitting at home by, for example, going out for moderate walks, while avoiding crowds. People around senior citizens should carefully watch whether they eat and sleep well.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 20, 2021.