10 Simple exercises seniors can do to improve quality of life and reduce fall risk.
Staying active is essential for seniors. Regular exercise can improve your mobility and independence as well as reduce your risk of falling.
Everyone is different. While these exercises are meant to be approachable to everyone, consider your condition. Some exercises can be dangerous with some medical conditions. For example, if you’ve recently had back surgery, do not try the back stretch unless you consult your doctor. Either way, do not overexert yourself.
If you understand your limits, all you’ll need to perform these exercises are comfortable sneakers, a sturdy support like a chair, and time. Adults should generally perform at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. That may sound like a lot, but breaking it down equates to 21 minutes each day. Again, take your condition and limitations into account. Potentially consult your doctor.
There are four kinds of exercises: Endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility
Endurance improves your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart and lungs.
1) Walking. Simple but effective. Start with short walks around your home or neighborhood. Then gradually increase the duration over time. Too easy? Try power walking. Power walking is all about form. With the correct technique, you can walk faster and for longer.
Power walking guide.
- Posture: Upright, head lifted, look forward. Relax your shoulders and avoid slouching.
- Stepping: One foot should always be in contact with the ground. Your advancing foot should hit the ground heel first, then roll to your toes. When you lift up, your toes should be last to leave the ground. Heal to toe in one fluid motion.
- Arm swings: Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and make relaxed fists. They should swing close to your sides. Forward and back, not diagonal.
- Breathing: Maintain a steady, controlled, and rhythmic breathing pattern. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
- Pacing: Power walking is generally faster than regular walking but slower than a jog. Aim for a brisk pace that you can maintain.
Strength: Our strength naturally deteriorates as we age.
2) Sit-To-Stand. Stand in front of a chair. Cross your arms over your chest. Bend your knees and slowly lower yourself into the chair. Count to five and use that to pace your motion. Then stand up again. The idea is to practice sitting down and standing up without using your arms. It will strengthen your legs and help you maintain mobility. It replicates the motion of a squat with the safe addition of a chair. Start with 10 repetitions (reps) and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the exercise.
3) Heel raises. Stand behind your sturdy support chair, and grab onto the back for stability. Using your feet, lift your heels at a 5 count. Then lower yourself back down at a steady 5 count. The idea is to slowly control that motion. For an added challenge, raise one foot off the ground as you lower yourself. Just make sure to exercise both legs equally. Again start with 10 reps for each leg and gradually increase your reps with your confidence.
4) Lean back ab workout. Sit on the edge of your chair, leaving a space between you and the back of the chair. Hold your abdominal muscles and slowly lean back without moving your hips. You should feel tension inside your stomach. Lean forward to a straight posture to make a complete rep. Again, 10 reps until you want to increase it.
Balance: Our balance naturally declines due to a multitude of factors.
Loss of balance is the number one cause of falls. 1 in 5 falls results in serious injuries. So by improving your balance, you are reducing your risk and advancing your ability to do everyday tasks.
5) Pillow stand. As we age, we lose sensation in our feet, which makes balance corrections harder. So let’s work without that bodily system. Place an old pillow you don’t care for on the floor. Place your support chair next to it. Without your shoes, stand on the pillow. Hold onto your chair for support. Just notice your balance as it is. This forces your body to use its other balancing systems. Once you feel balanced, lift one foot off the ground. Hang onto your chair, of course. But the goal here is to see how long you can balance on one foot. You will feel the work in your ankle. Once you’ve had enough, switch feet. Record how long you balanced and gradually try to surpass your record.
6) Sit-To-Stand with a step. A lot of seniors lose balance right after they stand up. Because you were sitting, taking a step can briefly cause disorientation. This exercise practices that transition from sitting to walking. Remember the Sit-To-Stand exercise from the strength section? Do that, but when you stand up, take one step forward. Keep a support chair next to you and grab onto it when stepping. Step back and sit down as you do in the Sit-To-Stand exercise. Alternate your legs so you work out both. Start with 10 reps for each leg. When confident, you can step to the right and left to increase this exercise’s difficulty.
7) Foot taps. Stairs can become a challenge for seniors. This exercise improves your balance and stability. If you have stairs in your home, stand at their base. Use the banister or walls for support. If you don’t have stairs use a step stool or block. Standing in front of the stairs, lift one leg, tap the chair or step, and come back down. Do that 15 times for each leg.
Flexibility: Flexibility improves your ability for everyday tasks.
We saved flexibility for last because doing stretches after strength exercises can reduce muscle soreness.
8) Arm and shoulder stretch. You will need a small hand towel for this. Hold your towel in your right hand, and lift your hand over your shoulder and behind your neck so the towel falls onto your back. Grab the bottom of the towel with your left hand. Now, both hands are behind your back, and you’re standing up straight. Gently pull on the towel with your left hand. You should feel tension in your right shoulder area. This stretches your arm and shoulder, but it should never feel painful. Do this 3 to 5 times with each arm.
9) Backstretch. Sit forward in a chair so there is a space between you and the back of the chair. Relax your arms and keep your shoulders back. Grab the side of the chair with your left hand and put your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Turn your shoulders with this motion. The idea is to stretch your back by twisting your shoulders, using the chair and your thigh to help. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, bring your torso back to face front, and then do the other side. You should feel tension around your spine, but it should not hurt. Again if you’ve had back surgery in the last year, consult your doctor before doing this stretch.
10) hamstring/calf stretch. Sit down on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Take one foot and move it forward so only your heel is resting on the ground, and your toes are pointed upwards. Hinge forward with your hips. You should feel tension behind your knee and under your leg. Lift yourself back upright using your core muscles. Bring your foot back in and repeat on the other side. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
This is not an exhaustive list of exercises, but they should be enough to get you active. Do these exercises at your own risk. However, if you are aware of your limits and don’t overexert yourself, these will be easy exercises that greatly benefit you every day. If an exercise causes pain, stop immediately. If pain persists after you’ve stopped exercising, contact a healthcare provider.