So what’s so practical about going to the gym, anyway? We can always find a million and one good reasons not to go. The dishes aren’t done, I haven’t finished reading the newspaper, the laundry is piling up, I have a headache, it’s too nice to be stuck inside, I’ve had a bad day…the list of excuses can go on and on. So why even bother?
The good news is that you don’t have to work out. But with every yin there is a yang, and the bad news is that if you choose not to exercise, you can expect to have a tougher time, especially as you get older, with simple daily tasks.
What Happens When You Can’t Perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?
At this point in your life I bet you can’t imagine not being able to walk up and down a flight of stairs, or losing the ability to dress yourself or brush your own hair. These are simple activities of daily living that we tend to take for granted. I can’t imagine entrusting my 5-year-old nephew with picking out clothes and putting them on me. I would probably have on a t-shirt with dinosaurs or a front-end loader on it, a pair of warmup pants (on backward, of course), and slip-on Wellie boots on the wrong feet. So thank goodness I can manage to get myself together and pick out my own clothes at this point in my life—and walk up and down the stairs to pick out said clothes, and get myself to work, or out to dinner with my husband, or on a walk with the dogs.
So how do we lose the ability to do functional movements that seem mundane at this point in our lives? It all boils down to inactivity. Sure, there are a lot of other issues that can compound the simple act of avoiding movement and exercise. But the act of avoiding movement and exercise on its own is enough, over time, and added to the natural muscular wasting or atrophy that occurs as we age, creates a perfect storm of problems that can seem insurmountable.
We need movement, especially weight-bearing exercises, to keep our muscles healthy and vital. As we age (Newsflash: we are all getting older; by the time you get to the end of this blog, you will be 10 minutes older), our bodies are less able to both maintain and create new muscle. Once you reach age 70, this issue begins to accelerate. By age 80 the problem has moved into the fast lane, and boy does she have a lead foot.
The Senior Fitness Solution: Keep Moving and Staying Active
This wasting process makes daily activities increasingly more difficult. And now we are back to the idea of going to the gym, because we don’t want our legs to shrivel up like a worm that sits in the sun too long. But we still have the same old excuses. So what to do? Do the things that you want to continue to maintain your ability to do.
- Going up and down stairs: You still want to walk up and down the stairs? Take 10 to 15 minutes a day and briskly walk up and down the stairs. If you don’t have a staircase, use the curb outside or buy an aerobic step riser from a sporting goods store.
- Getting in and out of chairs (or on or off the toilet): Another key exercise for leg strength is a modified squat, or what we call a sit to stand (and it’s also good for balance). Sitting on the edge of a sturdy chair, trying not to use your arms, come up to a standing position. Then sit back down. Imagine you are sitting on a lemon meringue pie. Don’t splat it out; sit on it gently. Don’t stay in the chair. Just touch it with your rear end and then push back up. Try 2 or 3 sets of 10.
- Dressing yourself and performing ADLs: Want to still be able to dress yourself and brush your own hair? Do modified pushups or wall pushups! Two sets of 10 per day will be more than adequate. Add in some weights (you can just use soup cans) and do some overhead presses and a few bicep curls and reverse flys to activate the upper body. Stick with the idea of doing the exercises until the muscles fatigue, usually after 20 to 30 repetitions. Add in a few planks for core strength. If planks are out of your league right now, just do some bent-leg lifts while on your back on the floor.
All of this is probably within your reach now. But why don’t you take a few minutes after you finish reading this blog to test out your abilities. Do all the stuff I outlined above, with not too much of a break in between, and see how you do. If it is a little or a lot tough, keep at it! It will get easier, and you will still be able to brush your hair and get off the toilet as you age! I’d say that active aging is a reward in and of itself.
Check out more great ideas like this from our staff! Click below for more best practices from NIFS.