Senior Fitness Day
May 27, 2020 | by The Polyclinic

By: Dawn Weaver, PTA, CLT-UE, Physical Therapist Assistant

Remember the phrase “use it, or lose it"? It’s true. With a basic, functional upper and lower body strengthening program that incorporates mobility and balance, the muscles required for walking, gardening, and other activities of daily living can stay strong. This is especially true for older adults as muscles can lose strength as we age. In honor of National Senior Fitness Day on May 27, we are focusing on mobility and balance to help you maximize your exercise routine without even lifting a dumbbell.

Why is mobility important for balance?

Mobility is important for efficient joint movement. In order to move efficiently while maintaining balance, proper strength and range of motion is needed. If a joint is too stiff or weak, movement and balance can be limited, and good mobility is needed from our ankles up to our hips for proper balance. Regular strengthening and stretching can help maintain mobility.

“I walk, isn’t that enough activity?”

Walking is wonderful. As a clinician, I recommend nearly all of my patients get out and walk more often, if they are able. But walking is a functional activity that requires strength and balance to be able to perform regularly and safely. As we age, muscles lose strength if not maintained through regular strengthening exercises. Strength training helps keep all those moving parts strong to prevent injury from overuse or falls.

Why is balance important for older adults?

The number one reason to maintain good balance is to prevent falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four older adults reported a fall to their doctor, with more likely going unreported. This rate increases with age. Among older Americans, falls are the number one cause of death from injury. In addition to injury, loss of independence can be an additional consequence as a result of a fall, as many patients require additional assistance for daily activities after such an event.

Practicing Strength and Balance

Here are a few safe exercises and stretches to get you started on a basic strength and balance program. None of these exercises should cause any pain—stop if this occurs. You’re aiming for muscle fatigue, not pain. Remember to consult with your provider to be sure it’s appropriate for you to engage in any new exercise programs. You can also consult one of our physical therapists for a full evaluation if your balance and strength needs further improvement.

  1. Sit to Stands
    Tip: Use a chair pushed against a wall for safety.
    Video demo of Sit to Stands

    How to get started:
    Starting in seated position at the edge of the chair, stand all the way up trying not to use your hands. Return to seated position, reaching back with your bottom, maintaining good posture throughout the movement. If this feels too difficult, try a taller chair or place a pillow or cushion in the seat to raise the height. See if you can do 10 in a row and work up to 2 to 3 sets of 10, 3 to 4 times weekly.

  2. Chair Dips
    Tip: Use a chair pushed against a wall for safety.
    Watch a video demo of chair dips

    How to get started:
    Using the arms on chair, push your bottom up out of the seat, extending elbows fully straightened, feet on the ground underneath knees. Lower back to seated position. For an option to make this harder, put feet further out in front as desired to achieve appropriate level of difficulty. See if you can do 10 in a row and work up to 2 to 3 sets of 10, 3 to 4 times weekly.

  3. Single Leg Balance
    Tip: Stand at a table, counter or behind a chair for safety.
    Watch a video demo of leg balance

    How to get started:
    Stand on one leg keeping hips level for approximately 10 to 30 seconds. Try to not hold onto support if you’re able. Switch legs and repeat. Try to work up to 30 seconds to 1 minute for each leg, repeating 2 to 3 times once or twice per day. Performing this while brushing your teeth twice a day is a good way to combine two activities at once.

  4. Tandem Stance
    Tip: Stand at a table, counter, behind chair, or in a corner for safety.
    Watch a video demo of tandem stance

    How to get started:
    Without holding on, place one foot in front of the other, or if too difficult, shift one foot out to the side for modified tandem stance. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat. Try to work up to a minimum of 30 seconds for each leg, repeating 2 to 3 times per leg, once or twice per day.

  5. Calf Stretch - also commonly called the runner’s stretch
    Watch a video demo on calf stretches

    How to get started:
    Stand at a wall or counter to lean into, with feet staggered one in front and other in back. Keeping the back knee straight and heel remaining on the ground, drive the front knee forward to stretch the calf. Hold for 2 to4 seconds and release pressure, repeat 5 to 10 times and switch legs, repeating 1 to 2 times per day.

  6. Ankle Stretch
    Watch a video demo on ankle stretches

    How to get started:
    Stand at a wall or counter to lean into, with feet staggered slightly. Drive the back knee toward the ground keeping heels on the ground, stretching the Achilles tendon. Hold for 2 to 4 seconds and release, repeat 5 to 10 times and switch legs, repeating 1 to 2 times per day.

Questions about your exercise routine?

The Polyclinic Physical Therapy provides full evaluation of balance and strength. Telemedicine appointments are available for individuals concerned about their safety during our public health emergency. Call 206.860.2210 to schedule an appointment, whether in-clinic or by video.

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