Archive for the ‘Senior Fitness’ Category

How to Move Better with Age

Relaxing exercise

Limited mobility as you age can make it difficult to enjoy social situations with family and friends or even remain in your own home. But Mary Derbyshire, author of the new book “Agility at Any Age,” says “mindful moving” can help you turn back the clock to move with more agility and ease…and perhaps most importantly, with less pain.

Using the Alexander Technique, a method that teaches participants to identify and stop harmful habits that increase stress and pressure in the body and ultimately limit mobility, Derbyshire has been working with active adults and baby boomers for 20 years, providing instruction for more mobility and better quality of life.

“As we age, we’re told of the importance to move, but no one mentions the significance of paying attention to how we move,” she explains. “A few ergonomic adjustments, along with a slight change of mindset, can make simple movements like sitting, getting out of a chair or walking much easier and more enjoyable.”

Derbyshire, who teaches the Alexander Technique, sat down with us to share her insights on how to move better—and more often—starting today.

What movements tend to be the toughest to engage in as we age?

Everyday [movements] like sitting or getting in and out of a chair are some of the most common moves that can be difficult to tackle. Walking is also tough. I’m not referring to power walking or walking for long distances, but walking around the house or a grocery store can be tough. And without the ability to sit and/or walk comfortably, a person can quickly find themselves losing their independence due to immobility.

Are there modifications to make sitting more comfortable and easy?

Absolutely! Many of us aren’t sitting correctly. You need to sit on your “sit bones” which will promote sitting up straight and ultimately more comfortably.

How can a person tell if they’re sitting on their “sit bones”?

You can locate them by sitting in a chair and sliding hands under your butt cheeks, palms up. Press lightly to feel the boney bits under each cheek, which are the sit bones. You have to sit with your weight on those to sit comfortably. However, most of the time we sit further back, toward the sacrum.

We also tend to sit on furniture that’s too soft or that’s designed for fashion but not function. Chairs tend to slope back so you have to haul yourself forward when you want to stand up. To combat that, I recommend a sitting wedge, which can be found online or some drugstores, that’s firm and higher in the back than the front. That promotes you sitting on your sit bones and ultimately makes sitting and getting out of chair easier.

Once a person is out of their chair, what changes can they implement to make walking easier?

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to give you a broad and steady base. And stand so you’re putting weight on the balls of your feet as well as your heels. Too often, we stand with our weight centered on our heels, which can contribute to fatigue and pain. If you have to stand for long periods of time, or [if] standing is difficult even for a few minutes, you can shift your weight over the arch of your foot from the ball to the heel to reduce fatigue and increase comfort.

It’s also important to walk through your big toe to improve balance and further reduce fatigue.

Many walk with their toes sticking up in the air, which doesn’t engage the big toe. And if you don’t engage that toe, taking your weight all the way through it, you’re not taking a complete stride.

Is there a way to know if you’re not walking through your big toe?

If you have a hole in your socks at the toes or a wear spot on your slippers, you’re not walking all the way through your big toe. It’s important to remember your big toe has two important jobs: it helps with balance and propels you forward. And along with increasing the risk of falling, not walking through your entire foot means you’re not being propelled forward and you’re belaboring walking.

Are there other ways to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls?

Everyone over the age of 45 should work on maintaining or improving their balance by challenging it. One way to do that is by standing on one foot. For safety, you should do that when you’re near something steady and anchored to grab onto if necessary, like a kitchen counter or table.

You also want to maintain flexibility in your ankles, which greatly impacts balance. If your ankles are stiff, you’re less able to maintain your balance. Work on that by tapping your toes while sitting watching television or eating dinner. You can also gently flex the foot to the left and right.

By incorporating these small changes, you’ll be better able to sit and get out of a chair, which means you’re more likely to stand and then walk. And that improved and increased movement will bleed over into every aspect of your life from grocery shopping, attending religious services or watching your grandchild’s dance recital.

 

3 At-Home Balance and Strength Exercises for Seniors

Stretches

 

My Great Uncle Bud used to always say, “It’s hell to get old.” He griped incessantly about his loss of strength, poor balance, and frequent trips to the hospital from falls. Yet his experience, that of an elderly person in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, was far different from today’s seniors. We know now that a body can be rebuilt at any age, and that most of the physical problems seniors experience are the result of inactivity.

Why does the body break down during inactivity? It’s a process known as the Use-Disuse Principle. In a nutshell, it means that the body will only hold onto the parts of itself that are frequently used. If a certain muscle group isn’t used for a long time, the body will discard those muscles to use the energy that would have been consumed by them elsewhere. So the cliché “Use it or lose it” is ultimately true.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of seniors who began a fitness journey at their doctor’s recommendation. Most had never exercised a day in their life, and preliminary fitness tests revealed severe muscular deficiencies. The majority could not easily perform simple movements such as sitting and standing. In light of this, most of the traditional gym equipment was off-limits until these older adults could regain some basic strength and stability. To help them get started, I created three at-home exercises to include in their daily routines.

The following three very basic exercises are designed to help seniors who have never participated in fitness programs, or who haven’t exercised in a while, to improve the strength and balance in their legs, core, and shoulders before using a gym. If the following exercises are performed every day for about a month, the risk of injury and overtraining when starting a more intense fitness routine—such as one designed by a personal trainer—will fall substantially. None of these exercises require any extra equipment.

The Toothbrush Challenge

Dentists recommend brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each session. This amounts to four minutes of nothing other than standing in front of a mirror and staring at ourselves. The Toothbrush Challenge makes use of this time to do a very basic strength and balance exercise that can help restore a senior’s stability fairly quickly.

While brushing your teeth, set a timer for one minute. During that minute stand only on one leg, with the knee slightly flexed (DO NOT LOCK OUT THE KNEE), and hold that position. Be sure to perform this exercise in a place where you can catch yourself in case you lose your balance. Once the first minute is up, set the timer again and repeat the exercise with the other leg.

The first few times you perform this exercise, you probably won’t last the entire minute. What’s important is that you try to keep balancing until the end of the minute. If your other foot touches the ground, reset and keep holding. Do this exercise every time you brush your teeth. After the first week, you should feel a marked improvement in your ability to balance and hold yourself on one leg. After one month, your legs will be far stronger and stable, and from there you can attempt other exercises at a gym.

The Textbook Toss-up

Shoulder injuries are a common complaint among seniors. The slightest tweak from overreaching for something in the back of the cupboard, or even from sleeping in an awkward position, can drastically hinder your quality of life. Weak shoulders are also prone to injury when exercising at a gym, so it’s a good idea to strengthen those muscles in a low-risk manner. The Text Book Toss-up is a great way to accomplish this.

Set a timer for one minute. Using a book about the size of a standard bible, grasp the sides firmly with both hands and extend your arms straight out ahead of you. Without bending your elbows, slowly lift the book above your head until you reach 90 degrees, then return to the starting position. Once returned to the starting position, bend your elbows and slowly bring the book to your chest. From there, extend back out to the starting position. Without dropping the book, repeat these two movements in sequence until the timer runs out.

The first few times you do this, you’ll feel a deep burn in your shoulders. Only perform three repetitions of the exercise at first and see how you feel the next day. Over time, assuming you do this every day, you should grow strong enough to begin setting the timer to two or even three minutes. If you’re really feeling strong, swap out a book for something heavier, like an encyclopedia, textbook, or atlas.

The Restless Leg (Abs Workout)

The abdominal muscles are crucial to good balance. As such, it’s important to strengthen them, but many seniors may struggle with traditional floor exercises such as ab crunches. To solve this problem, I created the Restless Leg Abs Workout. It’s designed to allow seniors to strengthen their abs and legs in a single movement, all from the comfort of their own bed.

Lying in bed, place your hands underneath the small of your back and stretch your legs out as straight as possible. Make a mental note to flex (or suck in) your stomach muscles and hold them that way. Raise one leg up without bending the knee and hold it for one minute in that position. At the end of the minute, reset the timer and repeat with the other leg. Do this three times with each leg.

The key to this exercise is to keep the stomach muscles engaged throughout. This means keeping your stomach sucked in while holding one leg off the bed. Again, over time this will become easier for you, and as you improve you may move on to more challenging and strenuous exercises.

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Christophe Adrien, also known as The Viking Trainer, is a Certified Fitness Trainer (CFT) and Certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition (SFN) with a Master’s Degree from Oregon State University. He is a lifelong health and fitness enthusiast who regularly contributes to publications such as 1-800-HOMECARE™1-800-HOSPICE™ and Baby Boomer Cafe, among others.