Many people assume aches and pains are a normal part of aging. While our bodies do change as we grow older, with bone becoming more fragile and muscles less firm than when we were younger, this doesn’t mean we’ll inevitably succumb to pain and incapacity.
Overall health and wellness is like brushing your teeth: something you need to be vigilant about doing every day. You can remain strong and flexible well into old age by exercising your body in ways that support your bones and muscles, and encourage mobility.
Because bone is living tissue, it is remodeled, or rebuilt, in reaction to muscle tension and the pressure of gravity. This is known as Wolff’s Law, and is another way of saying, “use it or lose it.”
Below is a trio of simple exercises seniors can do to strengthen bone and muscles to keep backs, hips, knees and joints limber and toned in your later years:
Happy As A Clam(shell)
You may never have thought of your lower body as resembling a clamshell. However, mimicking a clam has tremendous fitness benefits: it strengthens your gluteus medius, the muscle that forms the outside edge of your buttocks and side of your hip.
This muscle is critical as we age, because it helps strengthen and stabilize the hip and improve balance. People with weakened bones are at greater risk for hip fractures, which is why exercise that helps prevent hip fracture is essential.
Strong medial glutes also help protect your knees and lower back from excessive strain. Many people who complain of lower back pain actually need to strengthen their gluteus medius.
In addition to the gluteus medius, the clamshell exercise targets the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in your body, which helps you squat — and look terrific in workout wear or a bathing suit. The gluteus maximus is considered a core muscle, with an invaluable role in posture, balance, and core strengthening.
To Do The Clamshell Exercise:
- Lie on a firm couch or on an exercise mat on the floor. Lean on your elbow on one side of your body, with your knees bent, one leg atop the other.
- Raise the top leg up, squeezing your medial glutes as you do so.
- Slowly lower your top leg to the starting position. Do 20 repetitions.
- Now lie on your other side, and repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Performing the clamshell exercise will improve your muscle definition, strengthen your hips, improve balance and power, and decrease the risk of injury. Active aging starts with a well-toned butt — no ifs, ands, or buts about it!
One of the more difficult moves to perform as we grow older is squatting, which depends on strong thighs and hips. If your legs have grown weaker, you can rectify this with half squats, which provide specific strengthening and mobility exercise.
Hamstrings, the main muscle group in the back of the thighs, control knee and hip movement. The hamstrings extend your hip when you start to walk, and flex and rotate your knee. When we sit too much, which most of us do these days, our hip flexors tighten up. Strong hamstrings help remediate this issue.
We use our hamstrings when squatting, and a half squat also activates the gluteus maximus (thigh muscle) better than a full squat.
You’re no doubt familiar with the quadriceps, the muscles located at the front of your thigh, which flex the hip and extend the knee joint. Half squats place the proper amount of force on the quad muscles relative to the hamstrings, helping to maintain muscle balance and not overstress one muscle group.
Half squats are also more senior-friendly, because they’re easier for people with orthopedic or mobility issues to do. Fitness professionals maintain that squatting exercises belong in every workout routine, as they work so many muscles that improve lower body strength and functionality.
To Do Half Squats:
- Stand with your back to your couch, toes forward. Grip your arms in front of you and squat down, as though you are going to sit on the couch.
- Push your buttocks out, being aware of your core. Touch your buttocks to the couch and rise back up.
- Squeeze your buttocks right at the top, before each half-squat.
- If you do just 45 seconds of half-squats, it will give your hamstrings and quadriceps an excellent workout.
Building The Bridge To A Better Back
Some people are natural bridge builders, creating friendships and camaraderie wherever they go. The expression “I’ve got your back” applies to such friends. And though they may not be exercise champions (yet!), bridge building is also the key to a stronger lower back.
Sitting for long periods wreaks havoc on our muscles, which become weak and inflexible due to disuse. This also creates postural and lower back issues.
The glute bridge solves these problems for seniors by working all three gluteal muscles: gluteus maximus (the longest muscle in your body), gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Activating them boosts your structural health and physical appearance, a boon for bone health and positive aging. And all of this muscle building will also build bone, according to Wolff’s law.
To Do The Glute Bridge:
- Lie on your back on your couch, or on a padded floor mat. Lift your left leg high in the air, point your toes, and raise and lower your buttocks for 30 seconds.
- Switch sides, raise your right leg high, point your toes, and raise and lower your butt for 30 seconds.
This exercise is a complete workout for your lower body.
Of course, walking is one of the simplest health and wellness exercises you can do throughout your life to keep your back, knees, hips and joints happy. It takes no special skill — after all, you’ve been doing it since you were about a year old! — and is one of the best ways to participate in the extensive life enrichment programs The Kensington White Plains has to offer.