Exercise in Advanced Age

Father Time can be a real downer. As we get up there in the age column, our body begins to change more and more, and we do not quite have the same pep in our step. During my time as a personal trainer and an aide to physical therapists, many clients and patients walked through the door with numerous conditions, but the mindset was always the same. Me being the young whipper snapper I am, I would always get the same response from older individuals. They would say, “You’re young. Wait until you’re my age and you will know what it’s like being old.” While there is some truth to this in the way, not having the same physical capacity as we did in our youth and recovery takes a little longer,  there is still a mindset that comes with getting older. I always respond by saying, “Getting older is mandatory, but being old is a choice.” Meaning, as time passes, we will get older in age, being old in in our minds.

When it comes to remaining our best into advanced age, exercise can be broken down into five key areas; the ability to get up and down from a chair, the ability to get up off the ground, balance, posture, and the ability to reach overhead. With all my advanced age clients, I work on all five of these sectors and they have received tremendous results in their energy, how they move and even their independence. Let us take a deeper dive into each of them and learn how someone in advanced age can improve their quality of life.

 The Ability to Get In and Out of a Chair

As modern society has evolved, we find ourselves sitting more than ever. Whether it is for work or driving or just lounging around on a lazy Sunday, we find out butts in a seated position more often than ever before. As we get older, we may have to take a few more breaks than we are used to, so chairs will become a bigger part of our lives.

I like to start a client with just seeing how they get in and out of chairs. Once I know their abilities, I will then raise or lower the surface to their appropriate skill levels. For example, if the client cannot get out of a conventional height chair, I will add pads to the seat until they are able to get in and out with great control. As the client gets stronger, I begin removing the pads to make the surface lower and lower.

This is an especially important skill because it is a modified squat, and if you know anything about me and my training style, I hammer home the ability to squat until the cows come home. It is a skill that humans were born today and maintaining and improving this skill provides wonders for the strength in our legs and even relief for our knees and lower back.

The Ability to Get Up Off the Ground

God forbid any of us have a fall that leaves us on the ground, we must have the ability to get up. This especially important for the advanced aged population. According to the CDC, there are about 36 million older adult falls each year resulting more than 32,000 deaths. Whether these deaths are from injury or becoming stranded, the ability to get up off the ground is crucial for the advanced aged population.

When assessing a new client, I make everyone show me their ability to get off the ground. Once I know their ability, I decide which practice is the most appropriate. Now sure, there are some advanced aged clients that I can tell cannot get off the ground without help purely from just seeing them move. In this case, we would work towards this skill. Once they can get up with assistance of an object, they would then begin progressing the ability to get up with no hands. It takes time but all my clients have been able to progress this skill with consistent practice.

Balance

Piggybacking on the CDC statistics above, it is obvious that balance and the ability to get up off the ground go hand in hand. With so many falls each year, it is crucial for people not only in advanced age to work on balance. It is important that balance is a skill and can only be improved by challenging it. Balance is part of your proprioception (your body’s awareness in space), so having proper balance allows individuals the able to correct themselves while walking, navigating steps, or even just standing.

Some of my favorite balancing exercises consist of single leg stands and marching while sitting on the ball for beginners and single leg toe touches for the more advanced. Remember that since balance is a skill it must be challenged on a regular basis to maintain it and improve it.

Posture

With a lot of sitting comes poor posture. Our backs and shoulders get weak, and we begin looking like a shrimp. One of my favorite clients came to me with terrible posture from years of dealing with kyphosis; an exaggerated forward curving of the thoracic spine. After a year of strengthening of her mid and upper back, her condition began to improve and now has what would look like regular poor posture verse the exaggerated rounding she had prior.

One of my favorite exercises to improve posture are banded or cable rows. I have the client sit on a ball or bench with a band anchored to something sturdy. They sit as straight up as possible and pull the arms towards the body while drawing the shoulder blades back and down. I have them hold the retracted position for three to five seconds. This is a great exercise that needs to be in everyone’s physical maintenance routine.

The Ability to Reach Overhead

You would be surprised home many people even in younger ages who cannot reach overhead. The old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it” holds true to even some of the most basic skills. I see this upper body skill diminish the most in my older client and we begin any training program with improving this movement.

For those who are severely deconditioned, I like to start them with just lift their hands up to the ceiling while maintaining the best posture possible. Once they can do that, weights and resistance bands can be added to the mix. One of my favorite exercises for posture is the wall test where you stand up with your back against the wall. Make sure to place your hips, shoulders, head, elbows, and hands against the wall and try to hold the position.

We do not have a choice in getting older, but we most certainly have the power of whether we are old. By addressing the five areas above, you can improve your safety, your energy and overall quality of life. Mix in some proper strength training, and you have a recipe for success in your remaining years. If we maintain our strength, mobility and independence, the more we will become a “different breed” compared to our peers in our age group.

Helpful Videos:

Senior Strength Mobility and Strength Workout:

Single Leg Balance:

Single Leg Toe Touch:

Banded Rows:

Wall Test:

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