There are many reasons why some see going to the gym as a daunting task. For some it is a host of daily dealings that leaves limited time. Others simply aren't comfortable with the idea. Current economic uncertainties have also tightened bootstraps for many. The fact remains, the surgeon general suggests we all participate in at least 30 minutes-a-day of physical activity on most days of the week. Being physically active provides a host of benefits including the idea of improved functional fitness as we age. Statistics show that as we age we become less-and-less active, with 3 of the top reasons cited for inactivity being time, money and not knowing where to begin.
The purpose of the information to follow is to provide the basics in terms of where to begin, along with the money and time component of not leaving home. Functional fitness can be accomplished with a small amount of space and endeavors can be spread out. Although time may be accumulated, striving for balance is key. For the best results balance between the 3 categories of physical wellness is the best approach. The 3 categories are: 1) Muscular strength and endurance. 2) Cardiovascular strength and endurance. 3) Flexibility and range-of-motion.
Over a period of the next 3 months, the Words of Wellness will take a look at these categories individually. First off is muscular strength and endurance.
Muscular strength and endurance is essential for optimal aging. In the general population, loss of muscle mass begins around the age of 30 at a rate of approximately 1 #/year. Muscles make up more than 40% of the body and are a strong determinant of activities of daily living (ADLs), with well-developed muscles allowing for strong performance of these ADLs. Muscles also provide protection from injuries and provide support for proper posture and alignment. Although aging itself is shown to contribute, experts suggest inactivity causes the majority of muscle loss known as sarcopenia.
According to the CDC, muscular strength is also said to prevent and manage both cardiovascular disease and diabetes by improving glucose metabolism, increasing maximal oxygen consumption, reducing blood pressure, increasing HDL cholesterol (good) and reducing LDL cholesterol (bad).
Strength-type activities are activities that involve use of major muscle groups. The exercises to-be-discussed are specific to the improvement of ADLs. A more comprehensive approach will require independent investigation. Here are a few basic tips for getting started:
Exercise: Goal post / a.k.a. "scrape the wall."
"Why?" To increase back strength, vital for proper posture & alignment.
"What?" Sit up tall in a chair, imagining your back is flat against a wall. Reach up, taking a breath in and pull your arms down and back as if to scrape the wall with the tops of the arms and hands as the breath is released. Repeat as many times as is comfortable, several times/day.
Tip: Keep breathing pattern slow and controlled, engaging the muscles of the back on the way down. Think each time about strengthening the back and opening up the chest.
Exercise: Sink squats.
"Why?" To increase lower body strength, essential for balance.
"What?" Hands inside the sink basin, feet shoulder width apart, sit back slowly and slowly come back up. Rest when needed.
Tip: Weight is shifted back onto the heels, not allowing the knees to go forward past the toes (keeps knees safe). Head is up, not looking down into the sink basin (keeps the low back safe).
Exercise: Tummy toner.
"Why?" To increase core strength, the origin of all movements.
"What?" Sit up tall toward the front edge of the chair, spine in a vertical position. Feel the sits bones against the chair, pelvis in a neutral position. With the arms relaxed across the chest, slowly rock back onto the soft part of the bottom while rounding the back and dropping the chin, pelvis in a posterior tilt and the spine flexed. Slowly round back up to the start position and repeat as many times as a good level of control can be maintained.
Tip: To engage deeper fibers of the abdominal region, there are 2 things to consider. 1) Pull the navel to the spine periodically and 2) In rounding back, turn slightly to the side in an effort to disassociate the shoulders from the hips (e.g. drop back turning slightly to the right, sit up coming to center, drop back turning slightly to the left, sit up coming back to center).
Getting results from strength training efforts, with-or-without equipment, is highly dependent upon being focused. In other words, know "what" you're doing and "why" you're doing it. Empower yourself by being informed. Check a local community center where there may be FREE classes for seniors. The local library or book store is also a great place to start. Above all, if you are currently inactive, remember to check with your family physician for restrictions and/or recommendations. Life, be in it!!