Physical Activity

The human body was never designed to be still for long periods of time. Physical activity is important for every system of the body. Without activity our bones become fragile, as demonstrated by astronauts who were weightless for a matter of a few days. Those who live a sedentary life have a high incidence of diabetes and heart disease. Blood pressure tends to go high without physical activity and people develop a high risk of strokes. The digestive system needs movement to keep doing its job. Without physical activity our endorphin levels become low and we become depressed. If your patient stays in the same place too long he or she will soon have pressure sores. Although older residents are not able to perform as much physical activity as young, healthy people, whatever they can do is helpful.

One of the purposes of nursing homes and certified nursing assistants is to help the residents to keep the functions they still have. Any ability that is not used will be lost, so assist residents to keep doing whatever they are still able to do. Sometimes caregivers think that they are being helpful by doing things that the resident is able to do for him or her. This will tend to make residents more helpless, so allow a resident to do whatever tasks he or she is able to perform unassisted.

Out of Bed: Residents who are able to walk should be encouraged to do so. If they are able to walk to the dining room or outside this will do them definite good. Walking and talking with residents is a good activity for volunteers who cannot do the things certified nursing assistants can do, but they can walk with the residents, encouraging physical activity.

Light physical activities such as knitting or playing cards are an improvement over no activity at all. If your nursing facility has an occupational therapy department, encourage your residents to make full use of it. Going to the occupational therapy room in itself will get patients out of bed and walking, and once they are there they will have the opportunity to make things, using their hands actively.

Residents who are no longer able to walk can benefit from being up in a chair, and a ride in the wheelchair will give them something to see and others to talk to. Again, this is a good activity for volunteers and visitors, so suggest a ride in the wheelchair whenever you can.

In Bed: Patients who do not move their arms and legs actively can benefit from passive range of motion exercises. Range of motion refers to all the movements people are able to make. A good time to perform passive range of motion exercises is at bath time. Gently move the patient’s head from side to side and forward and backward. Lift each arm over the head and place it back into a resting position. Move all the fingers. Pick up each leg in turn, bend the knees, and return to the resting position.

Additional Reading: CNA Skill: Performs passive range of motion for one knee & one ankle

If your facility is particularly well equipped, you might get the opportunity to use an electrical passive exercise machine. The machine is placed onto the bed and the resident’s legs attached to it. Then the machine is turned and its movements will move the resident’s legs.


True or False:  No level of physical activity is possible for patients who are confined to their bed?

False:    Patients who are confined to their bed can still participate in some level of physical activity.  Physical activity can help an individual to reduce the risk of injuries and further complication caused by a lack of movement.  It can actually aid in the recovery process depending on an individual’s particular condition.

Explanation:  Some individuals can move their arms or legs, for instance, even if they must stay in bed.  A patient’s doctor and/or physical therapist should be able to provide information on the types of exercise they can do.  Patients can often perform range of motion exercises, whether they do these exercises on their own or with help from a nursing assistant.

Q.  Can physical activity help to improve a patient’s mood?

A.  Physical activity is often able to help improve a patient’s mood.  Individuals will sometimes feel more energetic after having some level of physical activity.  The increased energy can make a person feel less stressed or a little more cheerful.  Physical activity can also help individuals to who are depressed.  The same is true of individuals who are having a lot anxiety.
Explanation:  Physical activity helps to increase endorphin levels in the brain.  Increased levels of this chemical can help to combat depression, stress and feelings of anxiety.  If an individual is not being physically active, they are more likely to suffer from these feelings as their endorphin levels drop.

Q.  What is the name of exercises that move each muscle and joint?

A.  These exercises are referred to as range of motion exercises.  The exercises can be beneficial for a range of patients.  They are especially helpful for individuals who are not able to be very mobile.

Explanation:  Range of motion exercises helps to ensure that an individual can maintain motion with muscles and joints while they are ill.  If range of motion exercises are not used, it can be difficult for individuals to have good movement in one or more areas of their body after they recover.  Muscles can become weak if they are not exercises on a regular basis.  Nursing assistants are often responsible for ensuring that patients carry out their range of motion exercises.

This is a collaborative effort. This page and others in this CNA study guide are constantly being updated and improved upon.

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