These easy exercises you can do at home will quickly improve your strength, mobility and balance if you do them every day.
It can be frustrating when we notice a decline in our physical ability as we age. Maybe it used to be easy to put the bag of dog food in your shopping cart, and now it’s difficult. Perhaps we trip more often as we walk, or the stairs are making us get out of breath. It’s easy to chalk it up to getting older, but there’s a lot we can do to change the trajectory of our health. Incorporating a few simple exercises into our daily routine can make a world of difference in how we feel and what we’re able to do. Better yet, all of these can be done at home. You don’t need special clothing, and any flat shoes (or bare feet!) will work.
Keep On Walking
One way to keep fit that almost everyone can do is to walk more. Most people can aim for 10,000 steps per day, but you can taper or increase that goal depending on joint pain and your level of fitness. A recent study found that people who average 10,000 steps per day lowered their 10-year likelihood of dying by nearly half. Walking makes your muscles stronger, and decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and colon cancer. Here are some ideas to help you reach your walking goals:
- Park further away from your destination to add steps.
- Find a race that welcomes walkers and train for it.
- Find an audiobook or podcast to listen to while you walk.
- Walk around your block or in a nearby park.
- Go on several shorter walks each day instead of one long one.
Perform a few reps when you get out of bed in the morning, during a commercial break, or when you get up to move to another room in the house,” says physical therapist Ann Phelps. She advocates doing these foundational exercises every single day, even when you have a rest day from the gym. Why? They improve strength and balance, allowing older adults to stay independent longer. Talk to your doctor about any exercise routine if you have injuries or balance issues.
Often, the single most important skill for continuing to live on your own is the ability to get off a chair or toilet. “Standing up from a chair or other surface without using your hands is a good exercise for older adults to perform to maintain good health, fitness, and mobility,” Phelps says.
Start by sitting on a sturdy chair with feet hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you with fingertips extended. Pressing through your feet while holding your core steady, rise to a standing position. Then, return to a sit while continuing to hold your arms out in front and without moving your feet. That is one repetition. Work up to three sets of 10 reps per day. To increase difficulty, remove the chair while keeping movement the same. These full bodyweight squats should be performed with your chest up and heels on the floor.
Walking is an important activity at any age (see sidebar). This variation adds some weight in your hands to improve upper body and core strength at the same time. If you don’t have weights, you can use cans of food.
Start with feet hip-width apart, palms facing toward you with a light weight in each hand. Walk forward, keeping your spine straight by imagining a string at the top of your head pulling you upward. Walk for 30 seconds or as long as you can. To increase difficulty, use heavier weights in each hand and extend how long you walk.
The tandem stance “can significantly improve balance and stability to increase function and decrease the risk of falls,” Phelps says.
Stand up straight with your feet together. You may need to hold a sturdy chair, counter or a wall for balance, especially when you’re starting out. Imagine you are on a balance beam, and pick up one foot, placing your heel against the toes of your other foot. Stay in this position, heel to toe, for 30 seconds or as long as you can. Then switch feet and repeat. To increase difficulty, don’t use another object for balance. If you master that, add weights in each hand while you perform the exercise. Remember to use your core and stand tall.
This exercise will help you to walk and climb stairs, Phelps says, as well as finding and helping with any imbalance between your right and left sides.
Stand tall with your feet together to start. Standing straight and holding a sturdy chair, counter or a wall for balance, lift one foot just off the floor so no part of it is touching. Imagine a string pulling your head and body upward as you avoid leaning to one side. Stay in this position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. To increase difficulty, lift your foot higher off the floor until your knee is in front of the hip. You can make it harder still by straightening your leg and holding it out in front of you, and by bending it and holding to the side or behind you.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical decisions before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.