10 reasons why seniors should avoid bed-rest

Bed-rest for a week, I thought before I’d opened my eyes. My nose streamed, my head ached and my throat rasped. I sneezed, coughed and reached for the tissues. A second cold virus in a month. Bummer!https://maureenhelen.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/There-is-no-cure-for-the-common-cold.png

There’s nothing like a cold to cause me to catastrophise.

‘The end is near,’ I thought. ‘My immune system is shot.’

‘Rubbish,’ said a sensible, down-to-earth part of me.  She sounded just like my mother. ‘You’ve got a cold. Don’t be such a drama queen.’

Like the kid in the Dr. Seuss story, however, I just knew I was not going to get up! Grey sky, wet roads and a strong wind outside confirmed the decision.


Fruit, yoghurt, crumpets and coffee appeared on my bedside table. So did my Samsung tablet and phone. Such a pleasure. Thank you, John. I do enjoy ill health after all, I thought.

Ten-thirty and time for a little boredom-induced nap. A couple of hours later, trying to manage soup and toast on a tray in bed seemed too messy. Much easier if I got up while I ate. I climbed back into my cosy bed, but by then it had lost its appeal.

Remembering years of nursing and advocacy in aged care jolted me into a different space. Sickness, even when only a cold, is a nuisance, if not a downright pain. Bed-rest, however, even for a few days, can be dangerous for old people.

Relatives sometimes complained to the advocacy agency I headed that staff in residential aged care facilities wouldn’t let their ageing relatives rest.

‘Not even breakfast in bed,’ they’d say.  ‘Even though  mother’s off colour, the staff insist she gets up and dresses every day.’

Although bed-rest sounds like part of a healing process, our bodies should be upright and moving most of the time. When we stop, even if we sit too long, unhealthy consequences occur. Even a short stint of bed-rest can cause damage, especially for older people. Old bodies can be subjected to deconditioning which  seriously impacts on our health.

Ten reasons older people should avoid bed-rest (especially when prolonged)


  1. Muscles which usually support the body in an upright position deteriorate when not being used. Strength decreases quickly.
  2. Decreased muscle strength, combined with changes to the nerves, affects balance and coordination. This increases the risk of falls.
  3. Bones that are not being used to weight-bear lose density. Thinner bones increase the risk of fractures.
  4. Limited movement affects joints. Cartilage deteriorates. This affects walking and daily activities.
  5. After a few days in bed, the blood begins to pool in the legs, leading to dizziness and falls. Blood also becomes thicker, and there is an increased risk of clots forming in the legs and lungs.
  6. The heart beats more quickly and less volume is pumped. Less oxygen is taken up. Fitness deteriorates and fatigue sets in.
  7. Bed-rest affects the lungs. The risk of pneumonia and collapse of lung tissue increases. Fluid builds up in the lungs because the muscles that we use to breathe don’t work efficiently. The lungs don’t expand properly when a person lies flat. Less efficient coughing causes  mucus to collect and pool. Breathing becomes shallower, and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is less efficient.
  8. Depressed appetite  leads to malnutrition and dehydration. The risk of constipation increases through decreased movement of the digestive tract and weakened abdominal muscles. The bladder can’t empty efficiently, raising the risk of urinary tract infection. Incontinence may occur.
  9. Bed-rest affects metabolism and hormones, especially increasing the risk of raised blood sugar levels.
  10. Immobility, combined with the stress of illness, causes anxiety, depression, irritability and confusion.

You can find more information about the effect of bed-rest here.

Three days later, I’m on the mend. The symptoms of my cold have subsided. I’ve stayed out of bed and rested, kept warm, enjoyed reading, knitting and playing on the computer.  Solved a few problems. Feeling better. Thank you.

Here are a couple more blogs I’ve written about health care: https://maureenhelen.com/seniors-guide-to-health-care/       https://maureenhelen.com/zostavax-vaccine-shingles-anyone/

6 replies on “10 reasons why seniors should avoid bed-rest”

    1. Thank you, Fiona. My cold was a four-day wonder, thank goodness, and soon over. It’s good to be up and normal again.

  1. Glad you are feeling better. I found my autumn flu injections also appear to lessen the affects of the common cold. It is as though the flu jab sees off the cold virus and the cold lasts for only day or so.

    1. Thanks for your good wishes, Sue. Sadly the flu jab I had at the beginning of our winter did nothing to banish my cold symptoms which lasted for days. Better now, though.

    1. Thanks, Louise. I do love bed rest in short bursts. As long as l can read, boredom isn’t a problem. Sometimes also, boredom can be a blessing because it can stimulate curiosity and creativity.

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