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Health & Exercise Forum

Never too old to exercise - Part 1 of 2

Mar 27, 2017

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumYou Are Never Too Old To Exercise!


You are never too old to exercise! A reader who described herself as “elderly” asked me if she was too old to exercise. Without knowing her age, I replied that she was not. I did qualify my response with the fact that exercise must be adjusted to meet the individual needs of a person based on age, health status and goals. Her question, however, led me to think of the many “elderly” who may be apprehensive to begin an exercise program for a variety of reasons. Fear of injury and lack of information may be two reasons. Another reason, according to this inquiry, is the fact that so many exercise programs featured in the media are geared to the young and healthy or baby boomers and few focuses on the needs of those over 75, home bound and weakened by age and inactivity. Those running, biking, skiing, golfing at 75 and over and do not fall into this category, please do not be offended, you are the exception. God bless you!

Why would someone 75 or 80 be interested in an 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, walking safely for functional distances, tucking in a shirt or fastening a bra, cooking, cleaning, and carrying groceries or laundry.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends four areas of concentration for elderly persons to concentrate on in order to maintain safety and independence: strength, flexibility, balance and endurance. It will be the purpose of this column to recommend safe, practical and easy exercises that focus on each of these categories.

Remember, for most people it is more harmful not to exercise, so contact your physician to discuss whether independent exercise is appropriate for you. You may need to consult with a physical therapist to get started.


Strength Exercises involve using the muscles to move the arms and legs against resistance such as a weighted object, dumbbells, resistance bands, and body weight against gravity. Strength is necessary to perform daily activities such as walking, lifting a ½ gallon of milk, transferring to a shower or chair safely.

Examples of Strength Exercises for the Upper Body

These exercises are performed while sitting in a chair with backrest, slowly, 5 -10 repetitions, and 3-5 times per week. No weight is used in the beginning, only the weight of the arm against gravity. In 1-2 weeks a light 1-2 pound weight and light resistance band may be added.

To Be Performed While Sitting In A Chair With Backrest:

Shoulder Shrug – shrug top of shoulders up toward the ears – PHOTO A

Row the Boat – pull both arms back at a 45 degree angle with bent elbows as if “rowing a boat” - PHOTO B

Saw Wood – pull both arms back with arms at side with bent elbows as if “sawing wood” – PHOTO C

Elbow Bend/Extend – bend and straighten elbows – PHOTO D

Wrist Curl – bend wrist up and down

Grip – squeeze ball

Examples of Strength Exercises for the Lower Body

To Be Performed While Sitting In A Chair With Backrest:

Hip Hike – lift hip up 2-4 inches as if “marching” – PHOTO E

Hip Spread – heels on the floor, tie band around thighs - spread knees apart – PHOTO F

Hip Squeeze – heels on floor, put ball or pillow between knees –squeeze knees together – PHOTO G

Leg Kicks – extend knee as if kicking the foot forward and up – PHOTO H

Heel Raise – raise heel up with toe on floor

Toe Raise – raise toes up with heel on floor

Performed Standing While Holding On To Counter Top:

Standing Leg Curl – facing and holding onto the back of a chair or countertop, bend the knee by bringing the foot back – PHOTO I

Once you have mastered these exercises against gravity, then advance to using light weights or light resistance bands. Ankle weights are very inexpensive and can be purchased in 1 pound increments. Light resistance bands are available in yellow and red in colors.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.  Next Week: Never To Old To Exercise – Part 2 of 2

Photo Model: Sarah Andrews, PT Student, University of Pittsburgh

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate profession of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.