If you think you’ve aged out of exercise, think again. Exercise is an important part of a senior’s life, and not just because we’re living longer. Staying fit preserves muscle, which keeps us mobile so we can maintain our normal, active lives. It helps retain cognitive function so we don’t slow down mentally. And for all ages, exercise is an excellent therapy for keeping our moods up, and our stress levels down.
Never exercised before? No problem, these strengthening moves have modifications for all levels. Just make sure you check with your doctor before you start any fitness regime.
The Plan: start with five repetitions of each exercise. If you feel okay after a day or two, increase the number of reps. If it’s too much, only do what you can and work up.
The eventual goal is to do three sets of 15 repetitions for each exercise. But only progress once the exercises become easy.
Falling is one of the biggest fears for seniors. That’s why it’s so important to keep your legs strong. Chair squats are excellent for every muscle in your legs, which keeps you balanced and mobile.
All levels: Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Beginner: Take a chair, something like a dining room chair is best, and sit with the chair behind you, then get up. You won’t fall, because you’re sitting. Once that becomes easy, try not to actually sit in the chair, and get yourself up.
Intermediate: Take a chair, a sturdy one, and put it in front of you. Grasp the back of the chair, or the seat if that’s better for you, and slowly squat in the air, then make your way back to standing.
Advanced: Lose the chair. Have it nearby just in case, but slowly squat in the air, and come up again.
Note: When you squat, push your bottom out, and when you come up, use your legs, not your back.
Thighs and Glutes
Bridges. If you’ve ever taken yoga, you’ll know this one. If not, it’s a simple, low-impact move. There are no variations on this exercise.
All levels: Lie down on your back. Put your feet on the floor so your knees are bent up to the ceiling. Then scoot your feet as until they’re as close to your bottom as they can go without putting any pain in your knee. Next, pushing your heels into the floor, raise your pelvis to the ceiling while squeezing your glutes, so your body is in a bridge. Make sure to keep your back straight. Now, slowly lower to the ground. That’s one repetition.
Push ups. Yes, you can do it. These modifications ensure you’ll get the benefits of a full push up, even if you can’t do a traditional one (yet!).
Beginner: you’re going to do wall push ups – so standing up, keep your feet hip width apart and place your palms against the wall, with arms extended straight. Your back should be straight, too. Now bend your elbows and move to the wall, keeping your whole body straight – don’t bend your hips. Then push out.
Intermediate: Get on the floor and put yourself on hands and knees in a tabletop position, as in yoga. Your arms should be straight so your back is flat and parallel with the floor. Now bend your elbows and lower to the ground, then push up.
Advanced: The good old-fashioned push-up. Lay on your stomach on the ground, then put your hands on either side of your armpits, elbows bent. Now, push up so your arms are straight, then lower to the ground. Bonus move: don’t touch the ground when you lower.
These two exercises are great for a variety of body parts. The first is the deadlift, which is similar to the chair squat, only you hold something heavy. If you have a medicine ball, that’s perfect, if not, find a household product you can make heavier and is easy to pick up with both hands (consider a lidded watering pot full of water). Five pounds is a good place to start, but you can do more if you’re up for it.
All levels: stand with feet positioned slightly more than shoulder width apart, holding your weight between both hands in front of you. Slowly lower to the floor, bending your legs, knees, hips, and ankles, while holding your weight with straight arms. Now, keeping your back straight, come back to standing.
The plank is a favorite exercise among trainers. It uses all your muscles with essentially no impact at all.
All levels: lay on the floor, stomach down.
Beginners: rise up onto forearms with arms parallel, and slightly bend your knees so they’re just resting on the ground. In the correct position, your back is on a slant and your butt is down. Now hold for ten seconds. That’s one.
Intermediate: rise onto forearms, arms parallel, and keep knees off the floor, so legs and back are perfectly straight. Hold for ten seconds for one rep.
Advanced: if your wrists can handle it, come up into a push-up position, palms on the ground with straight arms, and straight legs. Hold for ten seconds for one rep.
Note: don’t let your pelvis drop too much, or rise into the air. If it’s too hard to keep a straight line, go a level down.