I get literally hundreds of questions each week from patients, gym members and even folks accessing me through our website about exercise. One of the questions that I am getting more frequently concerns exercise and aging.
“Am I too old to exercise”?
“Will I get hurt exercising at my age?”
“What kind of exercises should I be doing at age 80?”
These are all very valid questions. Fear over getting hurt or even just concern whether an exercise is useful are reasonable thoughts for most people. The short answer is that it is largely dependent on what type of exercise you do. Of course, the current state of your body regarding strength and flexibility also has bearing on how well you will tolerate a fitness program in your later years. I could have two people of exactly the same age start the same exercise program and experience totally different results. This would be explained by understanding the fact that each may have differing levels of fitness going into the program.
I can think of no other situation that demands professional guidance more than a senior individual wanting to start an exercise program. So, my first advice would be to see a physical therapist to determine your readiness to start a fitness program and assess what type of exercises most suit you. Part of this assessment would involve discussing with you what your goals for exercise are. In other words, do you want to improve your golf or tennis game? Do you want better balance to prevent a fall? Or, do you simply want to be able to get up off the ground when you are gardening or playing with your grandchildren? The answers to those questions will greatly affect your exercise program.
It has been my experience that the safest and most effective fitness programs are the ones specifically designed with your personal health issues and goals serving as the backbone of the program. There are countless people who have invested considerable time, money and effort in exercising very diligently with a “canned” program. Simply put, they walk into a gym and start using one machine after another until they are done with all the equipment. The hope is that they will do something that is helpful, even if most of the exercises are not helpful, or worse yet, some may be harmful.
It would be beyond the scope of this article to detail the “perfect” fitness program for a senior exerciser. But, I have hand selected the three exercises I teach often that provide direct benefit for someone who simply wants an enhanced quality of life for activities such as getting up from the floor or climbing a set of steps. Go to delawareonline.com to see a video detailing these exercises. They are extremely simple, require essentially no equipment, and are directly applicable to your daily life.
1. This is great for helping you get off of the floor: Stand next to a counter or railing so one hand can rest on it for balance. Put one leg out in front of the other in a stride position. Bend both knees at the same time slightly as if you were kneeling down. Straighten back up. Do this 20 times with each leg taking a turn at being in the forward position.
2. Stand next to your counter as in the above description. Pick a spot on your cabinets that is about 6 inches higher than your knees. Start marching your legs up and down, each time, making sure your knees at least hit that mark on the cabinet. Do this continuously for 2 minutes. Keep track of the number of marches you do. You should see a gradual increase in the number of marches over time.
3. Place a small stool or block of wood about 4 inches high in front of you. Alternately step up and down from the stool with the right and left leg. Do 30 times on each leg.
Remember our slogan for our older patients….”Exercise like you are ninety!”
Written by John Bradley, PT
Performance Physical Therapy and Fitness