Although exercise is no panacea for some of the challenging conditions associated with aging, it’s far and away the best tool we have. Regular physical activity can slow down the loss of muscle mass, help you lose weight, manage your pain, reduce the risk of falls, and help stave off heart disease. Exercise can also help and keep you in shape so that you can maintain and perform the routine activities of daily living, like:
- Dressing and grooming
- Carrying groceries
- Dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning
- Reaching into cupboards
- Walking up and downstairs
- Taking out the trash
- Bending to pick up something from the floor
- Sweeping the floor
- Raking leaves
- Mowing the lawn
Basic functions of movement
If you have trouble performing any of the above activities, consider incorporating some exercises that focus on fundamental movement patterns, like squatting, lunging, hinging, pushing, pulling, and twisting. Even if you’re not athletic, fear not – studies have shown that many functional losses can be reversed, even in frail seniors who have no history of exercising.
One must-do functional exercise is squatting, a movement that can help you maintain your ability to get out of a chair, off the toilet, or in and out of a car. This Total Body Strength Workout for Seniors includes chair squats, which can be an easy way to transition into other squatting exercises. Form is critical when doing squats, though—if you don’t stay upright when you squat, you may strain your back.
Another key movement to retain is lunging. This movement can help you with stair climbing as well as kneeling and picking up things from the floor. Take note of this Functional Fitness for Seniors video, which includes an exercise called the forward vacuum lunge.
Hinging consists of folding over from the hips while keeping the spine neutral and stacked. Exercises that use the hinge action include deadlifts and kettlebell swings. One option that you don’t need equipment for is the bodyweight hip thrust, a “pseudo-hinge” that works many of the same muscles as classic hinge exercises. (If you want to learn how to do a really good hinge, check out Foundation training videos on Youtube.)
Pushing is another essential movement, which you use when you open doors or push a grocery cart. You perform push exercises (such as planks, bench presses push-ups) by pushing the weight away from your body and then lengthening. To help strengthen push actions try wall push-ups, which allow you to gradually ease into pushups rather than starting on the floor.
Horizontal pull exercises, such as lawnmower pulls, move the weight toward your body horizontally. A similar exercise is bent-over rows, which mimics pulling a heavy suitcase out of a car trunk. You can also do vertical pull exercises, such as pull-ups and lat pull-downs, which move the weight down vertically in relation to the torso.
Twisting is another function that you don’t want to lose, as this action enables you to roll over in bed or to look over your shoulder when driving in reverse. Give the seated tummy twist or the lower back rotation stretch a try.
Although we’ve focused more on strengthening, a good exercise routine should also incorporate stretching, as this supports muscle strength, improves flexibility and range of motion, and increases circulation and blood flow. One of the best functional stretches to include is the back-scratching exercise, which increases your upper-body flexibility needed for brushing your hair and getting dressed.
These are just a smattering of the many exercises you can do to keep you fit so you can enjoy a full and active life. But whatever exercise routine you do take up, do speak with your doctor first, especially if you have any health conditions.
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