Alignment. Balance. Strength. Coordination. These are some of the key issues that affect us physically as we age. Older women may be familiar with the unflattering term Dowager’s hump, so named because many older women (and men) tend to become a bit stooped due to weak bones, weak muscles, or years of poor postural habits.
Exercise is key to staying mobile and healthier longer and can be adapted to suit your abilities at any age. Following are eight simple exercise routines to keep fit as we age — and you can do many of them while sitting in a chair.
1. Shoulder Strengthener
This is an ideal exercise for a senior living environment because it can be done while listening to a talk, conversing with friends, or sitting in The Kensington’s gardens on a lovely spring day.
Strengthening your shoulders will improve muscle tone, which will help you keep your spine straight and hold your head in alignment, eliminating the forward curvature that creates Dowager’s hump.
- Sit in a relaxed, cross-legged position on a mat. If this is too difficult, sit in a firm, straight-backed chair without armrests.
- Holding your arms out to your sides, parallel to the floor, move them back and then forward slowly for a count of 30 seconds.
- Try not to bend your back. Stare at a point at eye-level to maintain your focus.
- Be sure to do this exercise slowly to avoid injuring your neck or shoulders. Do 10 repetitions if possible (or work up to 10).
2. Cow-Cat Stretch
Even if you’ve never lived on a farm, cows and cats can help you build strength and flexibility. This chair yoga pose is easy, fun, and will build shoulder strength to improve posture and balance, strengthen your spine, increase coordination — and calm the mind.
- Sit on a chair with both feet flat on the floor and your spine long and straight.
- Place your hands on your knees or on the tops of your thighs.
- As you inhale, arch your spine and roll your shoulders down and back, bringing your shoulder blades onto your back. Now you’re in the cow position.
- As you exhale, round your spine and drop your chin to your chest, letting your shoulder and head come forward. This is the cat position.
- Move between the cow and cat positions as you inhale and exhale, for five full breaths.
3. Touch the Sky
One of the simplest yet highly effective yoga chair pose involves reaching heavenward.
- Sit up straight in a chair without armrests.
- Anchor your sit bones in the chair and reach up from there.
- As you inhale, raise both arms toward the ceiling.
- Hold this pose as long as is comfortable, then bring your arms back down and relax.
- Repeat 5 times.
This is also an excellent exercise to do in a standing position if possible. As with the Shoulder Strengthener, you can perform Touch the Sky in almost any senior living situation. You may even inspire other residents to join in!
4. Windshield Wiper
You don’t need a car for this exercise, which will strengthen your lower legs and hip muscles to help prevent falls and broken bones. And you’ll never have to change the “wiper” blades.
- Sit tall with your buttocks on the edge of the chair, legs together.
- Place your hands on the outside of your knees. Pull your navel toward your spine to engage your abdominal muscles.
- Open your knees and legs to the sides, resisting with your hands.
- Now move your hands to the inside of your knees and squeeze your knees close together, using your hands to resist.
- Repeat each movement 10 times, or work up to 10 repetitions.
4. The Flamingo
Now it’s time to stand up and imitate a flamingo. In addition to strengthening your bones and preventing fractures, maintaining good balance boosts brain health. People who can’t stand on one leg for more than a few seconds have an increased risk of both stroke and dementia.
Standing on one leg supports your balance and coordination while strengthening your hip, knee, calf, and pelvic muscles. If you haven’t done balance exercises before, or in a long time, it’s a good idea to stand near a wall or a piece of stable furniture that you can grab onto if necessary.
- Raise both arms skyward, keeping your arms slightly curved, with palms facing inward.
- Lift your right leg out in front of you, a few inches off the floor.
- Hold this pose for as long as you can without wobbling.
- Aim to improve your time in this pose until you can hold it for a minimum of 5-7 seconds. The longer you can hold The Flamingo pose, the more you’ll improve your balance.
- Switch legs and repeat.
While a one-legged pose might seem daunting, it will rapidly become easier to do for longer periods of time with practice.
5. Server On Skates
This exercise looks a bit like a skating waiter, though it’s a lot simpler to perform, and you won’t be carrying heavy plates of food. Like the Flamingo, this balance/leg lift exercise will help strengthen your muscles and bones and help overcome a fear of falling.
- Stand with your knees relaxed and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your torso vertical throughout the exercise.
- Hold your arms out in front of you, palms up, as if you’re holding a serving tray.
- Take a big step back with one foot, keeping your heel off the ground.
- Slowly lift your back foot several inches off the ground, tightening your buttocks muscle to perform the lift.
- Lower your foot to the ground and repeat the lift 8 to 10 times for one set.
- Switch legs and repeat.
- Try to do two to four sets on each side.
6. Lying in Bed Energy Booster
Can you increase your energy, reduce stress, and improve your breathing just by lying in bed? The answer is yes — provided you do this exercise correctly.
This postural exercise can be performed in bed and will help enhance your mood and energy. Deep breathing is an excellent detoxifier, which produces a sense of deep relaxation throughout your body. And it all starts with this modified yoga exercise.
- Place one of your bed pillows vertically on your bed.
- Lie back on the pillow, with one end close to your lower back, and the other end right under your neck. Your shoulders should be on the pillow and not touching the bed.
- Spread your arms straight out to the sides, palms up.
- Push your shoulders down against the pillow. Your shoulder blades will come together and your chest will rise.
- Push your head down toward the bed, keeping your chin tucked. Aim to push your neck down rather than your head.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds, relax, and repeat for another 30 seconds.
7. Walk This Way
The best overall exercise for seniors is a brisk walk, which is the natural way to build bone and muscle health and beat back disease. Studies have shown that even frail, sedentary seniors who begin a walking program significantly improve their balance, strength, and agility.
Stepping lively also lowers cardiovascular risk, improves memory and concentration, elevates your mood, and promotes better sleep, which prevents bone loss. And it requires no special training or equipment; you’ve been doing it all your life. Invest in a sturdy pair of walking shoes that fit well, and you’re ready to walk your way to greater health, mobility, and longevity.
Here at The Kensington White Plains, we offer an ever-changing calendar of activities to keep our senior residents as active and engaged as they want to be.
Whether you enjoy brisk walking, ballroom dancing, yoga, or any number of exercise and fitness activities designed to keep you in excellent shape, our life enrichment coordinators are ready to meet your needs. Come share your fitness goals with us!