A practical guide for seniors who want to maintain a high quality of life
Consider the old adage: "Use it or lose it". This article identifies the "it(s)" and the pertinent exercises to "use" them to effectively improve and maintain your mobility......
It is common knowledge that all of us lose our mobility as we age, especially after about the age of 60. There is an abundance of articles on the subject, e.g. see the link to the NIH Journal below. However, there is scant specific information on mitigating or reversing, to a degree, the process. Note the word "reversing". You may doubt it, but virtually all running records for men over the age of 70 are held by men who took up serious running after age 60. [Orville Rodgers was 100!; Ed Whitlock was 85!; Ed Benham was 87!]. Obviously all "reversed" the aging process.
This article addresses this deficiency with several simple exercises seniors can easily do at home without professional assistance. The strengthening drills described below are recommended for seniors to improve and maintain pertinent muscle strength and stability. Though aimed for seniors, these drills will materially help runners and walkers of all ages.
A noteworthy feature of this program is that it is very effective and efficient time-wise, about 10 minutes per day. That's a little over an hour per week. Contrast that time with using a gym; which, assuming 3 sessions per week, can easily require 6 hours when you include changing clothes, showering, driving and your actual workout time. And, 7 sessions per week is considerably more effective than just 3. The case is made below as to why these drills are actually more effective for strengthening your mobility systems.
We lose muscle strength and neurological effectiveness due to aging. This is due to cellular biological aging and a change in life style. After about 60, we tend to do fewer different types of physical activities which help maintain our strength and reflexes. Walking and running help greatly and are necessary to help maintain mobility; but, are inadequate for minimizing the aging effect. For example, if you run or walk the same speed and distances every week, you'll slow at about 2% per year at 70 and likely about 5% at 80. This can be mitigated greatly by performing the workouts covered below. For a full discussion of this topic see: NIH Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health, Promoting Mobility in Older People This is a PDF file that prints well.
It is highly recommended that you review this program with your doctor, and get his/her approval prior to starting the exercises. Everyone is different and it should be expected that some drills may not be suitable or safe for you.
These drills covered in this article address a set of specific drills primarily focusing on the muscle/neurological systems used for mobility and balance, [i.e., running, walking, climbing stairs, etc.] as these are fundamentally necessary to maintain a good quality of life.
Please note, all of these drills can be done without any special gym equipment and thus can be done at your home. You'll need a foam-padded weight-bar [generally about 25lb/women and 35lb/men, works well]; hand barbells [Start with 3lbs/women & 5lbs/men]. Just try the weight-bar and barbells in the store to see if you can easily handle them. And, you'll need a rubber stretch tube [The tube type is better than the band type] assortment. They generally come in a pack of several tensions. And also, you will need an ankle weight. Good ones come with insertable weights, typically 10 x 1lb, so you can choose a weight that's comfortable.
The drills flagged with a "★" are more advanced and should be done with great care. If you've had any surgery or medical conditions that might be affected, get your doctor's approval.
Though most of the photos were taken at a home and just outside, these drills can just as well be done at any gym of your choice.
There are three files formatted especially for printing this article. First is a Printable version of this article's general discussion. The second and third are "Quick Guides", which are intended to be used as handy guides for everyday workouts. The first of these contains just the Drills Portion. And, the second contains just the photos on this page to be used as a guide for your drills. Printable Photos There is lots of white space to make notes about reps and sets, etc. For the photos, you may need to set your printer for the Landscape mode.
- Important Concepts
- Ideally, all appropriate drills should be performed while standing upright on one leg at a time. Humans are not kangaroos, we walk and run with one foot on the ground. [Or fly during the leg swinging stage when running]. You will notice that your stance-leg, the stationary one, and it's hip get a very good workout. This is an isometric muscle contraction, which is a key factor for good balance.
- Balance improvement requires both muscle strength and a responsive nervous system. It in inadequate to have strong muscles if your nervous system doesn't recruit them. Conversely, it's inadequate to have a responsive nervous system if your muscles are too weak to do the job.
- A few words about concentric, isometric and eccentric muscle contractions: Concentric muscles shorten to apply force, isometric muscles statically hold tight, there is no significant movement at the joint. In other words, the joint is static; there is no lengthening or contraction of the muscle fibers and the limbs don't move. Weak isometric hip muscles are a major factor in the lack of good balance, eccentric muscles resist lengthening. For example, the quad eccentric muscles prevent our knees from collapsing when we run or walk, especially downhill.
- Carefully, look at all the drills below; notice the stationary leg on the ground it is getting a good isometric workout, while the muscles in the moving leg are utilizing concentric and eccentric muscles.
- Weak lower-back, isomeric muscles are a major cause of lower back pain. They get very little exercise in our modern life, we sit too much. Note, drills #5, #9 and #15 directly address the issue.
- Avoid drills while seated; typically most equipment at the gym. The machines isolate particular muscle groups, which you do not want. It's nice to have strong hams and quads while seated; but, it's not particularly helpful for everyday life.
- Many of the drills can be incorporated into your everyday life. For example, #6 "Step-ups": Whenever you go up the steps in your house, take two at a time. You can easily get in 20 sets per week this way. For example, #5 "Lower Back": Do this while watching the evening news on TV.
- Do your workouts a minimum of 3 times per week, ideally 7 days a week. There is no basis for the usual 3 times per week or every other day. Probably it's to help gyms manage their facility usage. If everyone showed up 7 days per week they'd need almost twice the space and equipment.
- Smile during all drills. Look like you are having fun.
- You may want to try an important Yoga principle: Every position can be improved as you become more attuned to your body. Do some of your drills in front of a mirror and work on just plain "looking" better and younger. Stand tall, head back with good posture.
- Scheduling Your Workouts
- Consider your Mobility Strengthening exercises to be an integral part of your daily health maintenance routines, e.g., bruising your teeth, bathing, eating, etc.
- Don't use the excuse "Don't have the time...". Your daily total time to do the all the drills [except the walk, sidesteps, fall recovery, and the plank] is a maximum of about 14 minutes. Using 20 reps per leg, adds up to 20reps x 11drills x 2legs x ~2sec = ~14 minutes per day total. That's probably about the same time as brushing your teeth and showering.
- Professionals highly recommend doing your workouts at the same time every day, any suitable time of the day.
- You may find breaking up the daily drills into 2, 3 or even more sessions each day suits your lifestyle best.
- Some folks prefer going to a gym works best for them for their whole daily exercises.
- You may like to do both; some at home and some at the gym. It does not matter; the most important thing is to just do them.
- Important Particulars
- There is no particular order to do the drills; but generally, you'll want to mix upper body and lower body sets.
- The quad and ham drills are best NOT seated; we don't run or walk seated.
- Start your program very easy. Light resistance, 10 reps, 2 sets. As you progress, up the reps each set to 20.
- For the first 10 times doing a particular drill, concentrate on good form: upright and straight, your body and body center of gravity directly over your feet.
- When 20 reps are easy, gradually up the resistance over several weeks and number of sets to 3 or 4.
- Expect some DOMS [Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness] Zero means none.... 5 is very bad. A 1 or 2 is ideal.
- All reps should be: Lift fast [less than 1sec], hold 1 sec, return slowly 4 sec. e.g, count: 1, 1, 4. This is important. Running and walking strongly depend on good eccentric muscle contractions, i.e., the return segment.
Revision 19 Feb 2018