Research over the past 30 years has shown conclusively that regular physical activity is the most important contributor to healthy aging. Exercise can prevent or control many medical problems, reduce pain, improve sleep quality, help protect against falls, and promote a feeling of well-being. Each older adult, no matter what their strengths and challenges, can reap the benefits of an individualized exercise program.
Many studies confirm that older adults, even those who are frail and living with disabilities, benefit in many ways by regularly using the muscles and stretching the ligaments. Appropriate exercise programs are available through senior centers and community fitness facilities but even right in the home, it’s possible to stretch and work all the important muscle groups and joints of the body, without any expensive equipment. Simply start with your head and work your way down to your toes and you’ll feel better and better each time.
A Chair-Based Sample Routine
Here is a sample beginning routine. These exercises are best done in a chair with no arms. Put on some music or do these while watching your favorite television show.
- Begin with closing your eyes and taking a deep breath in, slowly blow it out. And when you think it’s all out, do a final “poof.” This expands your lungs and makes you ready to take in more oxygen for your routine.
- Turn your head to one side as far as you can and hold it for 10 seconds; repeat on the other side and then with your chin to your chest. Repeat the whole series three times, each time stretching a little further.
- With your chin to your chest, roll forward with your elbows and lower arms resting on your legs. Feel the long stretch all the way down your back and relax there for 30 seconds.
- Lift your chin to straighten your back and slowly, to the count of five, bring yourself back up to sitting position. This works the long muscles of your back, so important in preventing back pain. Repeat three times.
- Sitting up straight, stretch your arms out to the side and slowly raise them to the ceiling; hold them there for a count of five and move all your finger joints, as if you were playing the piano. As you bring your arms back down, slowly roll your wrist joints, first in one direction and then the other. Repeat two times.
- Lean one elbow on your leg and rest on it. With the free arm, gently swing back and forth to loosen your shoulder. Then make circles with the arm from the shoulder, just relaxing and letting your arm go first in one direction and then the other. Repeat on the opposite side. Repeat this three times if you have any stiffness in the shoulder joint.
- Sitting up straight, put your arms straight out in front of you with the palms up. To strengthen the biceps (the muscles in the front of your upper arms), slowly bring your palms to your shoulders, contracting the muscles slowly, and just as slowly take them back to starting position. Repeat eight times. If you would like to add weights in your hands, that’s great! A soup or tomato paste can works well. But just contracting the muscle on your own and releasing it will be a great beginning.
- Put your arms down to your sides with the palms facing back, hold your elbow at your waist and slowly, at the elbow joint bring your arm up; just as slowly take it back down and stretch it backwards. You’ll feel the muscle of the back of your arm, the triceps, contract, and work. Repeat on each side eight times.
- Now for abdominal muscles! Sitting up straight, put your legs straight out in front of you, hold yourself up with your hands and do scissor kicks with your entire leg eight times slowly. Relax your legs and stomach and repeat.
- Sit in a relaxed position and from the hip only, pull your leg up until you feel the muscles in the front contract; hold for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat with the other leg and work each side five times. Shake the muscle out when you’re done!
- Extend your legs straight out on front of you and roll your ankles gently, first in one direction and then the other to a count of 10. Wiggle your toes to feel all the joints in your feet!
- With feet on the floor, tap them, one at a time, working the front muscles of your leg; repeat three times.
Put your feet firmly on the floor and press down with each of your toes, feel them all firmly working, holding for a count of three; release and repeat three times.
You did it! You’ve stretched and worked all the important muscle groups and joints in your body. This routine can be completed three time each week to get huge benefits. Congratulations. You’re already on your way to better health!
(Be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)