Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

May 18, 2009

Table of Contents

  • Work It! (Introduction to special exercise issue)
  • I Want It All (One exercise to condition many muscles)
  • Good to the Core (The "basics" yield multiple benefits)
  • Progressive Walking (Improve balance with this simple strategy)
  • Up the Ante (Increase the difficulty of a classic balance exercise)
  • Posture Perfect (Practicing carries over into everyday life)
  • Bridge to Somewhere (This exercise helps seniors get around)
  • Double Down (When resistance-band routines need more intensity)


Work It!

Senior personal trainers and group instructors are always looking for new exercises, as well as fresh variations on tried-and-true methods. So today's newsletter is all about working out -- ideas, inspirations, and details!

I Want It All

Here is an exercise designed to engage the shoulders, abdominals, gluteals, hamstrings, and quadriceps all in one fell swoop, so to speak, which is why we call it "chopping firewood." Before conducting the technique, always make certain that your participants are thoroughly warmed up.

Arm and hand positioning are important during this exercise. Have older adult fitness clients learn the movements without using any extrinsic resistance -- just interlock the fingers, loosely clasping the hands together. Later on, to progress, they can hold a light-weight dumbbell with both hands during the exercise.

Follow these steps:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms relaxed (extending naturally downward in front of the thighs);
  • Squat down, but do not permit the hips to descend below knee level;
  • Consciously tighten the abdominal muscles and rise to a standing position while, simultaneously, raising the hands high overhead (elbows remaining just slightly flexed);
  • Lower the arms, still slightly bent, back down into starting position.
  • Complete six to eight repetitions at first, gradually progressing to 10 repetitions with practice, or as successfully performed and well tolerated.

Good to the Core

Core exercise can strengthen the aging human body for greater mobility, improved balance, the successful performance of ADLs (activities of daily living), and long-term preservation of personal independence. Below is an easy-to-teach example:

  • Lie with the back flat on a mat, extended arms relaxed and resting on the mat along each side of the torso, palms down;
  • Bend one leg and keep its foot flat on the mat;
  • Extend the other leg upward toward the ceiling with toes pointed;
  • Contract the abdomen while drawing small circles in the air above with the extended leg, rotating from the hip;
  • Draw circles in the opposite direction;
  • Repeat using the other leg.

Breathe naturally and regularly throughout the exercise. Begin with four or five circles in each direction, gradually progressing to six or more.

Progressive Walking

This simple but effective balance training plan calls for four essential components:

  • Time;
  • Personalization;
  • Sharp observation by the trainer; and
  • Productive motivation from the trainer.

To conduct the activity, initiate a regular walking program of appropriate duration and frequency on a level, unobstructed walking surface. Achieving results may take weeks or months, depending upon the functional fitness level of your participants.

The key to success is to have every participant slowly increase both stride length and rate of speed over time, compared to his or her personal baseline performance. Change should be modest and gradual, with only small incremental increases made during any single walking session. On an individual basis, trainers may find it efficient to emphasize stride length only, quickness only, or both for a given participant on separate training days.

Common sense might suggest that regular walkers would naturally increase their stride length and their pace over time without any external coaching. Well, yes, that is true in many cases, but not necessarily in some senior populations. Inadequately supervised older adults may tend to establish and maintain a too-comfortable gait, thus forfeiting desirable training effects. Therefore, trainers must practice and develop keen observation skills in order to monitor each individual's performance and personal progress during the course of an extended walking program. Encourage every participant to improve within the specific parameters of his or her physical ability and safety zone.

Up the Ante

One standard balance training activity involves:

  • Standing in place (with an attendant and/or beside a wall for safety support, as needed);
  • Lifting one foot off the floor;
  • Swinging it slightly across the front of the body;
  • Holding that position for approximately five seconds;
  • Returning the foot to starting position;
  • Performing approximately five repetitions of the exercise using each foot.

With time and practice, the challenge level of this activity will need to be raised. Continue performing the original routine, but increase the difficulty -- and the rewards -- by adding a second phase. Repeat the entire activity, but move the lifted foot behind the body instead of in front of it.

Posture Perfect

Try this new twist on a popular good-posture exercise. It can be performed while chair-seated, while rising from a seated to standing position, while standing still, or while walking about.

Perhaps you are already having your fitness participants regularly practice balancing a paper plate or light-weight book atop their heads. This can be highly instructive since it reinforces what optimal posture feels like, effectively promoting better body alignment throughout the rest of the day.

To advance your participants' skill level and awareness, have them try this exercise using a small plastic water bottle that is about one-third full -- and, of course, keep the cap on!

Bridge to Somewhere

When older adults do a lot of sitting -- as may be the case with some individuals at home as well as in long-term care settings -- the hip flexors tend to tighten up, which can further inhibit mobility. To counteract that outcome, encourage sensible movement throughout the day. Also, gently stretch the hip flexors with "bridge" activity.

SFA national advisory board member, Amelia Leonardi, PT, MS, includes the bridge as a part of her therapy program for stroke patients. Although the bridge can be performed on a mat on the floor, her participants cannot safely get up and down for floor exercise, so she uses a raised platform on which they can begin by simply sitting down. To instruct, have participants:

  • Lie on their backs with both knees bent and both feet flat on the mat;
  • Squeeze the gluteal muscles;
  • While still squeezing, press the hips up toward the ceiling;
  • Hold that position for approximately one second;
  • Slowly lower the hips back down into starting position;
  • Perform approximately 12 repetitions or as well tolerated.

Remind participants not to hold their breath during this activity. Encourage them to focus on maintaining a strong contraction of the gluteal muscles throughout the exercise. This will release tension in the hip flexors, signaling them to relax and lengthen, thereby facilitating both standing and walking. The bridge can also serve as an excellent warm-up activity to prepare the lower extremities for targeted strengthening exercises.

Double Down

If you work with high-fit, high-performing senior fitness clients, your resistance-band workouts could occasionally come to lag behind a participant's capacity to handle increases of intensity level. In that case, consider combining the use of light-weight dumbbells with simple resistance-band techniques that are well-known to your high-achieving client.

On your own time, away from fitness class, use a creative approach to experiment. That is, identify simple moves during which your advanced client can safely grasp one or two low weights while also executing a familiar, oft-practiced resistance-band maneuver. For example, exercises featuring arm flexion and extension at the front or sides of the body may prove to be viable candidates for light dumbbell enhancement.

Clearly, since this approach requires concurrently controlling a band and at least one dumbbell, its implementation must be considered on a strictly individualized basis and only for clients who are high-functioning both physically and cognitively. It should not be applied to complex, multi-movement exercise patterns. Think simple, and think safety first. For the right client at the right time, this procedure can provide muscular fitness benefits, as well as variety affording an interesting change of routine.

Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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