Four easy exercises for seniors
Have you ever heard the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it?”
That saying is often applied to things like paid vacation days or perishable foods. But it also applies to our bodies. As we age, it becomes more important to maintain a healthy level of activity to keep our muscles and bones strong and our joints flexible.
With that in mind, here are four easy exercises designed to help us keep our stamina, strength and range of motion:
- The Daily Walk
Perhaps the most important exercise that anyone — of any age — can do is an “endurance exercise.” These are also known as cardiovascular exercises; walking is among the easiest for most of us to work into our daily routines.
Other cardio exercises include jogging, swimming and bicycling. These exercises primarily increase your heart rate and make you breathe harder. But how do you know when you’re doing enough? According to the National Institutes on Health (NIH) National Institute on Aging, if you can talk without any trouble, you’re not working hard enough, but if you can’t talk at all, you’re working too hard. NIH recommends at least 30 minutes of this level of cardiovascular activity per day.
It’s easy to think cardiovascular exercise is different from strength-building exercises (see below), but both build muscle. Cardiovascular exercise just builds the most important muscle: the heart.
- The Step-Over
- First, stand with your feet close together and your hands on your hips. If balance is a concern, it’s OK to hang onto a countertop or the back of a sturdy chair.
- Next, lift your right leg up to the side
- Finally, bring your right leg down, as if you just stepped over a large suitcase
Repeat the exercise, but next time, raise the left leg.
Strengthening exercises like this one build muscle mass, making it easier for us to do things like lift groceries or grandchildren. Former U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher said strength exercises are essential to helping us maintain dignity and independence as we age.
“Essential to staying strong and vital during older adulthood is participation in regular strengthening exercises, which help to prevent osteoporosis and frailty by stimulating the growth of muscle and bone,” Satcher said. “Feeling physically strong also promotes mental and emotional health. Strength training exercises are easy to learn, and have been proven safe and effective through years of thorough research.”
Other strengthening exercises you might want to try include wall pushups — like doing a traditional pushup, only against a wall instead of the floor — and toe stands, where you repeatedly raise yourself up on your tip-toes while holding onto a sturdy support such as a kitchen chair. While it is easy to think of lifting weights or using complicated gym equipment when it comes to strengthening exercises, those things are not a requirement for improving the strength and function of our muscles.
- The Sleeping Flamingo
While the Step-Over (see above) is both a strengthening and, partially, a balance exercise, the Sleeping Flamingo is an exercise focused almost totally on improving the muscles that help us maintain our balance. This is an important consideration as we age.
Doing the Sleeping Flamingo is as simple as standing on one leg. Like the Step-Over, you may wish to hold onto a sturdy kitchen chair or countertop while doing this exercise, and that’s OK. According to the National Institute on Aging, this exercise should lead you to improved balance such that, after you’ve established a routine of doing it, you’ll eventually be able to do it without holding on to a balance aid.
Improving our balance can help us avoid falls, which is a leading cause of injury among older Americans.
- The Sky-Toe Stretch
This exercise is one of several stretch exercises that are good for seniors like us.
To do it, you start by laying on the floor on your back. After you’re in position:
- Bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor
- Raise your right leg with your knee slightly bent
- Keep raising your right leg until you can grab it with your hands. Make sure to keep your head and shoulders flat on the floor.
- Grab your right leg and gently pull it toward your body until you feel a stretching sensation.
- Hold steady in this position for 30 seconds if you can, and repeat the exercise three to five times.
Be sure to repeat this exercise for the left leg, too.
The National Institute on Aging has a whole range of stretching exercises for you to consider adding to your routine.
Stretching exercises help us maintain flexibility, improving our freedom of movement when doing everyday things such as getting dressed or reaching for things. Maintaining our range of motion also decreases the likelihood we will suffer muscle or joint injury from doing one of those routine things.
As with any exercise regimen, always consult with your doctor before trying any of the above exercises.
Here’s to a New Year and a healthier us!
Image courtesy of National Institutes on Health/National Institute on Aging.