Aging past 50 years brings with it wisdom and perspective, but it can also mean a slow decline of physical abilities.
As we age, strength, balance, and coordination can deteriorate if they are not being challenged and practiced each day. Loss of these abilities can make it difficult or painful to perform your everyday activities.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, regular physical activity can benefit your physical, mental, and social health, and prevent or improve many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and some cancers. For substantial health benefits, adults (ages 18 through 64 years, with and without chronic health conditions and disabilities, who are able) should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and strengthening exercises two days per week.
If you are over age 50, incorporating the following exercises into your daily physical activity routine can help you with strength, agility, and balance.
Walking sideways “wakes up” the hip muscles on the sides of the pelvis, which are essential to support the knees, ankles, and spine. They also assist in keeping your balance when walking.
What to do: Several times per day, step 10 times to the right, followed by stepping 10 times to the left. Keep hands on a kitchen counter or long table while sidestepping, if support is needed. To make it more challenging, tie an exercise band around your thighs, just above the knees, to create resistance.
2. Shoulder blade squeezes
Middle-aged and older people often have forward-curved posture, usually as a result of simply not practicing proper upright posture. This posture can reduce how deeply we can inhale, and cause neck and back pain.
What to do: Several times per day, squeeze shoulder blades together and downward. Hold for 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times. This exercise can help you stand up straighter and even breathe more deeply.
3. Abdominal drawing-in
Our abdominal muscles support the spine. With age, these muscles can become weaker unless they are being actively exercised. Weak abdominals can predispose people to back pain.
What to do: Several times per day, pull your belly button inward toward your spine. Hold for 5 seconds, without holding your breath. Repeat 10 times. As you get used to doing this, try doing it when you are walking, exercising, and during all other activities. It can protect your back from injury and pain.
Good balance comes naturally to us when we are young, but over time we can become less skilled with balance. Good balance helps prevent falls and related injuries.
What to do: Several times per day, stand on both feet with your hands on a kitchen counter or a sturdy table. Slowly lift one foot, and try to balance on the other foot for 10-15 seconds. Then do the same thing on the other foot. Repeat 5 times on each foot. If this is easy, try closing your eyes while standing on both feet. If that is easy, close your eyes while standing on one foot. Be sure to have someone standing close by to help you avoid falling.
5. Stand up and sit down
The strength and endurance of the hip and thigh muscles determine how well middle-aged and older adults can get around their homes and the community. If these muscles lose strength, standing and walking can become difficult.
What to do: Several times per day, sit in a sturdy chair with no armrests. Stand up and sit back down, rising and lowering in a controlled motion. Do this slowly 5 times. Then do it more quickly 5 times. You can use your hands to help you, if you need to, at first. Try to work toward not needing to use your hands. Over time, this exercise can help your leg muscles feel stronger.
6. Pelvic floor training
Pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that we sit on, at the very bottom of the torso) play an important role in incontinence (urine and bowel movement control), spine support, and sexual response. The pelvic floor muscles can lose strength with age, illness, weight gain, and sedentary lifestyle in both men and women, and with pregnancy in women.
What to do: Several times per day, squeeze the muscles in your pelvic floor area as if attempting to stop the flow of urine or hold back gas. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat up to 10 times. Do not tighten leg, hip, or abdominal muscles or hold your breath when you do this exercise.
7. Front and back stepping
Coordination and agility are important to athletes, but they are also essential for middle-aged and older adults. Loss of coordination and agility can occur with aging or inactivity and can lead to an increased risk of falls and related injuries.
What to do: One time or more per day, with your hands on the kitchen counter or a sturdy long table, cross the right leg in front of the left leg and step on the right foot. Carefully lift the left foot and step out to the left, then cross your right leg behind the left leg, and step on the right foot. Again, carefully lift the left foot and step out to the left. Repeat 2 more times. Then, carefully change directions, and do it to the right side. Start by crossing the left leg in front of the right leg. This exercise is a little more complex, so be sure to have someone standing close by to help you avoid falling.
If you are experiencing issues with your strength, balance, and coordination, speak with a physical therapist. Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed exercise.