You are never too old to exercise! This is the second of two columns dedicated to appropriate exercise for the elderly. Last week I discussed basic strengthening exercises. This column will address three additional components necessary for independence in the elderly: flexibility, balance and endurance. While it may not be as valuable for those fortunate to be over 75 years of age and capable of running, skiing and playing tennis, you may still find a noteworthy pearl of wisdom.
Why would someone 75 or 80 be interested in a basic exercise program? Well, one must maintain adequate flexibility, strength, balance and endurance to safely function in daily activities around the house. For example, the most common goals of elderly patients are: climbing stairs, getting in and out of a shower, putting on shoes and socks, tucking in a shirt or fastening a bra, cooking, cleaning, and carrying groceries or laundry.
Remember, for most people it is more harmful not to exercise, so contact you physician to discuss whether independent exercise is appropriate for you. You may need to consult with a physical therapist to get started.
Flexibility Exercises involve moving the arms, legs and trunk through comfortable range of motion to give you more mobility in order to improve your ability to perform daily activities such as tucking in a shirt, tying shoes or fastening a bra. Best if performed after strength exercises because the muscles and joints will be warm and limber. Always perform slowly with slight stretch sensation and no pain. No bouncing or overstretching!
These exercises are to be performed while sitting in a chair with a backrest, slowly, 5 repetitions, 3-5 times per week.
To Be Performed While Sitting In A Chair With A Backrest:
Shoulder Raise – clasp hands together, raise arms up to forehead, then above head, as high as comfortably possible
Hands Behind Head – raise arms behind head by first touching ears, then back of head
Hands Behind Back – bring arms behind back by first touching the side pocket, then back pocket and toward small of back as comfortably possible
To Be Performed While Lying On Back In Bed:
Knees to Chest – bring knee toward chest using hands. Right Leg 5 Times – Left Leg 5 Times - Both Legs 5 Times
Leg Spread – Spread legs apart by sliding heels on bed
Leg Cross – Bring legs together touch by sliding heels on bed
Gas Pedals – pump ankles up and down like gas pedal
Balance Exercises involve strengthening muscles that keep the body upright and stable in standing in order to improve your ability to perform daily activities without falling. According to the NIH, 300,000 US hospital admissions for broken hips occur each year due to falls. Check with your physician if you have a history of dizziness before performing these exercises on your own. Best if performed with someone at home or some assistance. Always use a countertop or back of chair to hold onto for support.
Examples of Balance Exercises
Sitting Squat – Squat up and down in a chair. First use both arms to assist, then one arm.
Standing March – March legs up and down while holding onto countertop
Standing Scissors – Bring leg out and cross over like a scissors one leg at a time
Standing Squat – Squat down by bending at hips and knees 20-30 degrees while holding onto countertop
Dance – Slow dancing with a partner is great fun and a very helpful exercise to improve balance.
Endurance Exercises involve any activity such as walking, swimming, biking or raking leaves that elevates your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time. Check with your physician if you have a history of heart problems or dizziness before performing these exercises on your own. Best if performed with someone at home or some assistance. Start off slowly for only 5 minutes and add 1-2 minutes each week or 2. Wear good and comfortable shoes – no heels!
Examples of Endurance Exercises
While not all of these endurance exercises may be appropriate for you, one or two of these may offer a good starting point.
Walk Around the House – Start walking around the house for 1-2 minutes nonstop every 1-2 hours. Then, add 1-2 minutes every week.
Static Marching – hold onto the countertop or back of chair and march in place for 30 seconds. Rest 1-2 minutes and repeat. Do 5 cycles. Add 5-10 seconds every week.
Climb the Steps – If you can do so safely, use the steps for exercise 1-2 times per day. Then, add 1-2 times per day.
Walk the Mall/Treadmill – If you are able to get out of the house and can tolerate more extensive endurance exercises, get out and walk the malls or use a treadmill.
Recumbent Bike – If balance is a problem, but you can tolerate more extensive endurance exercise, use a recumbent bike (a bike with a backrest)
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!