Most people know that cardiovascular exercise, such as walking and swimming, helps promote good health. Unfortunately, many neglect strength training.*
*Consult your doctor before beginning this or any new exercise routine.
People who do not perform regular strength exercises will lose 50% of their muscle mass and muscular strength by age 65. In fact, sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) is one of the main reasons that many older adults become unable to live independently and must enter an assisted-living center or nursing home.
The following simple program, designed especially for those over age 50, is easily done at home using a stretchable rubber exercise band (about $15)...ankle weights ($10 per pair)...and dumbbells ($1 to $2 a pound). These products are available at sporting-goods stores.
Most of the following exercises recommend beginning with one- to two-pound dumbbells or ankle weights. Increase the weight when you can perform 15 repetitions easily. By performing this 3O-minute full body workout two to three times a week, in addition to your regular cardiovascular exercise routine four to five times a week, you can enhance your energy, strength—and even your independence.
SIT TO STAND
Purpose: Strengthens the front leg muscles that are used to get up from a seated position.
What to do: Sit toward the front of a sturdy chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Lean slightly forward, Inhale. Exhale slowly as you stand up. If possible, do not use your hands. Cross your arms in front of your chest. Inhale and lower yourself slowly into the chair. Do six to 15 repetitions. 'When you can easily complete 15 repetitions, try holding a one- to two-pound dumbbell in each hand.
Purpose: Strengthens the legs and helps with balance.
What to do: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides, holding a one- to two-pound dumbbell in each hand, Inhale. Keeping your left leg in place, exhale and lunge forward with your right leg as far as you comfortably can while keeping your right knee in line with your right ankle. Inhale as you step back to the starting position. Do six to 15 repetitions. Repeat with your left leg.
Modification: If you find this exercise too difficult, do it without weights, and place your hands on your hips instead. If balance is an issue, hold on to a chair when lunging.
LATERAL ARM RAISES
Purpose: Strengthens the shoulders and upper back.
What to do: Stand straight, feet shoulder width apart and knees relaxed. Place your arms at your sides and hold a one- to two-pound dumbbell in each hand. To protect your lower back, keep your torso firm by contracting your abdominal muscles and not arching your back. Inhale as you slowly lift your arms out to each side, no higher than shoulder level. Hold for one second. Exhale as you slowly return to the starting position. Do six to 15 repetitions.
Modification: If doing this exercise with straight arms is too difficult, bend your elbows and extend them out from your sides.
Caution: If this exercise causes pain and/or a clicking sound in the shoulder area, stop right away. Consult your doctor.
Purpose: Strengthens the upper body.
What to do: While on your hands and knees, move your hands forward so your torso is slanted at a comfortable angle and your hands are shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and pull your abdominal muscles in. Inhale. Exhale as you bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body. Go only as far as you comfortably can. Inhale as you return to the starting position. Do six to 15 repetitions.
TRICEPS BAND EXTENSIONS
Purpose: Strengthens the backs of the arms.
What to do: Stand straight and drape an exercise band over your left shoulder, placing your right hand on the band to secure it (begin with the easiest resistance band and work up as you get stronger). Keeping your left elbow next to your body, grasp the band with your left hand to make a 90-degree angle with your arm, keeping the band taut at all times. Inhale. Then exhale as you slowly pull the band by extending your left arm downward. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Do 15 repetitions. Repeat with your right arm.
Purpose: Strengthens upper body muscles to improve posture.
What to do: Hold your exercise band out straight in front of your body at shoulder-height, one end in each hand. Extend your arms out to the sides, stretching the exercise band, squeezing your shoulder blades together and making a "T" with your body. Hold for two seconds. Slowly return to the arms-in-front position. Do 15 repetitions.
SEATED LEG EXTENSIONS
Purpose: Strengthens the front muscles of the legs. Note: If you have long legs, roll up a towel and place it under your knees.
What to do: Strap a one- to two-pound ankle weight to each ankle and sit with your back against the back of a chair. Place your hands in a comfortable position. Inhale. Exhale and slowly extend your left leg until it is almost straight (but do not lock the knee). Hold for two seconds. Inhale and slowly return your leg to the starting position. Do 15 repetitions. Repeat with the right leg.
Modification: If you find this exercise too difficult, try it without weights.