Exercise for Seniors
Try these strategies for smart exercising as a boomer.
Are you a baby boomer (between 53 and 71 years old)? You want to enjoy the second half of your life actively, comfortably and energetically. However, years of sitting and driving may have produced forward-head misalignment, rounded shoulders, hunched posture, and an overstretched or weak back. Certain types of exercise for seniors can lessen the chance that you develop more severe problems from these physical challenges—or help reverse them.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA, co-founder of funandfit.org and a certified fitness professional who has taught on four continents for three decades, provides strategies for smart exercising as a boomer.
Choose No-Crunch Ab Exercise for Seniors
Select ab exercises that do not involve crunches. While the traditional crunch has its place, the last thing baby boomers need is more forward-rounding. Look for moves that keep the head on the mat or that provide very little opportunity to forward-flex the neck.
Primary examples of suitable exercises are plank and reverse curl or reverse curl with oblique rotation (bringing the right hip toward the left rib cage, for instance). Another great option is the “marching abs” move, where the upper body stays on the mat throughout. Legs are bent 90 degrees at the knees; hips are fairly open with feet close to the ground. March the feet, holding the knee angle constant, alternating right- and left-foot marches.
See also: Reclaim Wellness and Health for Seniors
Activate the Back in Exercise for Seniors
In keeping with the focus on not reinforcing forward hunch and rounded posture, focus on actions behind the body. Incorporate exercises that require glutes, hamstrings and back muscles. Use every opportunity to open or extend the pectorals, anterior deltoids and hip flexors.
These moves continue the theme of counteracting decades of movements that close off the front of the body.
Use the Core First
Quality movement originates from your center, then translates outward. Ideal movement has us first activating the core, then putting the arms and legs in motion. Ab work is the perfect example of this principle. Compress the abs, and then shift the arms, spine and legs into position. Having good posture also requires central activation as the “base.”
A 60-year-old who turns on her core and then adds resistance will be able to train longer and with less risk of injury than a person with a lot going on in the arms and legs (even with resistance added), but very little happening in the core.
Add Standing Balance Moves
As you grow older, you may lose your ability to balance well—which could lead to falls. That’s why you want to incorporate some balancing components into your programs, such as adding a standing balance move to upper-body work. Make sure you choose a stance that is challenging, yet safe. In order of most secure to most challenging stance, options go from
- wide-stance staggered (one foot forward of the other, though not lined up) to
- wide-stance parallel (most common) to
- narrow stance staggered to
- narrow stance parallel (feet and inner thighs touching) to
- feet in one line but not heel to toe (i.e., space between front and back foot) to
- tandem stance (feet lined up one in front of the other, heel to toe (more challenging) to
- one foot resting on top of the other or one leg lifted (most challenging).
See also: Fit to Travel: Exercises for Seniors
Updated July 9, 2021
Focus on Physical and Cognitive Function
Choose movements for your clients that mirror real-world biomechanics. If possible, avoid just training single-joint, isolated strength and muscular-endurance training moves, such as calf raises or triceps kickbacks. Instead, select an exercise that lifts a weight left to right with rotation from low to high (floor to overhead), or perform squats that mimic ducking sideways under a rope or bar. Think in terms of adding rotation, level changes (low to high and high to low) or working in opposition.
Did you know that exercise can also enhance cognitive function? When you cross the midline of the body with an arm, a leg or both, for instance, you stimulate the brain and further integrate the left and right hemispheres. For example, instead of doing a squat to a straight-ahead knee lift with a slight hold in the knee-lifted position (balance and strength move), replace the knee lift with one that rotates inward and draws to the opposite elbow.
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