By Kate Maliha
The cumulative effects of aging and physical inactivity affect people in many different ways, and we certainly do not all age the same way. However, all things being equal, people who exercise tend to manage their daily activities and any medical conditions better than those who don’t. Those who don’t exercise may not even realize their physical abilities have declined until suddenly something happens. For instance, someone may not notice they’ve lost speed (power) until they need to move quickly to catch that bus that’s pulling away. Loss of balance may not be noticed until someone has a fall stepping off a curb. A loss of strength and power in the lower body and core may not be noticed until getting out of a chair becomes a struggle. Ideally, we don’t want to wait until that wake up call to get fit for the physical challenges of life. It’s certainly better to stay a few steps ahead.
What should we be able to do? According to the U.S. Supplement on Aging as well as the Functional Aging Institute, the nine physical functioning activities are:
- Walking a quarter mile
- Walking up 10 steps without resting
- Standing or being on your feet for about two hours
- Sitting for about two hours
- Stooping, crouching, or kneeling
- Reaching up over your head
- Using your fingers to grasp a handle
- Reaching out as if to shake someone’s hand
- Lifting or carrying 10 pounds
Here is a quick routine you can do at home which helps to address several of these areas:
Warm up with light stationary cycling, a short walk, or light calisthenics before starting. Begin by stepping up and down a stair or a short, sturdy stool (six inches or less). Step up with the right foot leading as many times as you can without pain in any joints. Next, step with the left foot leading. If this is too easy, hold a weight (5 to 10 pounds, based on your current ability). Next, grab a pillow or soft cushion. Standing with feet shoulder width apart or wider, squeeze the pillow (gently, but as if squeezing water out) and release 6-10 times. Next, hold the pillow in front of you and squat as if sitting. Keeping your spine straight, bring the pillow down by your left side, up to the center and then down to your right side, 5 times per side. Then, straighten your legs and lift your heels off the ground. Keeping your balance, push the pillow up over your head (or as high as you can). Bring your heels back down and bring the pillow down; repeat 5-10 times as able. Next, hold the pillow in front of you at shoulder height and bend your knees slightly, pushing the pillow forward as far as you can while keeping your balance; return to the start position; repeat 5-10 times.
Repeat the routine as many times as possible, building up over time. You can also work up to using weight instead of the pillow while doing the stepping and squatting exercises. Finish the routine with some gentle stretching.
Kate Maliha, MA (HKin) has a Master’s degree in Human Kinetics and has conducted aging research at the University of British Columbia. She is the owner of Love Your Age (www.LoveYourAge.ca), a fitness company specializing in the exercise needs of seniors.