As a physical therapist helping middle age and older adults deal with their acute to chronic musculoskeletal issues, I have seen first-hand the progression (or regression) of people who are not proactive thru the middle years of life to prepare, from a physical fitness perspective, for the so called golden years. If unprepared, these years can be anything but golden, as I hear in recurring fashion that “getting old is not for sissies”. Certainly, there are those who are physically impaired via a scenario beyond their control, but for the majority of the population, there is often times the failure to prepare oneself for the years ahead.
Why Does it Matter?
Why is this crucial? For most, the ability to get in and out of a chair or off of the toilet dictates whether one is able to live at home independently. The primary cause of mortality in this country is a broken hip (ultimately succumbing to pneumonia or other systemic issue) further reiterating the maintenance of muscular and bony strength. Most of us work hard to prepare for retirement. Unfortunately, I have seen all too frequently people with the money and time to do the things that they have longed to do, but are unable due to physical impairment.
So how should we physically prepare for this phase of life? Let’s initially back track to our first and second decades; a time filled with jumping, climbing, ruff housing and contorting our bodies to every possible extreme. When was the last time you hung from the monkey bars? Things change with the responsibilities of work and family and it’s obvious we don’t move our bodies (and stay strong) specifically into the extremes of motion that we used to. When we do in present day, it becomes an event of trauma because our bodies can no longer distribute loads within a muscle or away from a joint and we get hurt.
So….What should we do?
The primary goal is to expand three-dimensional functional mobility (for all joints of the spine and extremities simultaneously) and follow behind that with functional strength at these newly acquired extremes thus expanding upon the three-dimensional realm where one can function (push, pull and move loads) safely. This concept falls within the realm of traditional Tai Chi, Yoga and i.e. a Pilates mat program, all of which in conjunction with a qualified instructor, are excellent options.
And if we desire to do this at home….
DVD’s of the above noted exercise options are available for home use. A nice thing about the examples that follow is that there is no need for equipment and that it is designed to maximize efficiency with minimal time spent. As always, there should never be pain with exercise. If you question your ability to do an exercise, that is enough to tell you not to do it. One set of an exercise to a point of mild to moderate muscular fatigue is usually sufficient. The following exercises are designed for those who can accomplish all of their personal health and community activities without issue.
From a strength perspective, first and foremost to address are the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thigh) and gluteals.
Exercises to Try
- Telephone Wall Slide: Here one places their back against the wall every time they talk on the phone, subsequently bending at the hips and knees to slide down the wall to a point of muscular challenge, again no pain. Hold in this position for 10-15 seconds, then return to the neutral position, rest for 10 seconds and repeat until there is fatigue.
- Sink Squats: Place a kitchen chair in front of the sink. Grasp the front edge of the sink. Slowly move toward the chair until the butt just barely touches the seat, then immediately stand tall, using the sink to help stabilize you as necessary. Repeat to a point of fatigue.
- Sink Ballerina: Again, grasping the sink for stability, raise both heels off of the ground. At that point, lift the leg straight out to the side, elevating to a point of mild tightness in the hip. Return the heel up position and do the same with the opposite hip. Alternate back and forth until at a point of mild fatigue.
- Sword Fight Lunges: Move across the living room floor with alternating maximal strides/lunges. Again, continue to a point of fatigue.
- Get Up and Go: Lie down on the floor and get up, using a chair or couch as necessary. Try it starting from your stomach and one from on your back.
These don’t take a lot of time and can be done periodically during the day. Work on improving the number of total reps of each exercise. Good luck.
With the above in mind, the following is an excellent pearl of wisdom from a great grandparent:
“If you don’t take care of the tractor you can’t plow the field.”