Healthy aging and the art of staying upright
As you may remember, I was an avid hobby ballet dancer in my younger years. Recall my brief hint previously at the abuse I put my hip joints through 😉. The really great thing about my lay dancing career was that it gave me excellent baseline muscle mass to keep spinning through life.
Other than excellent strength and posture, dancing gave me another great gift of which I was not aware because as a dancer, I took it for granted. But working with people from different backgrounds, with different ailments, and varying strength levels, it jumps out at me every single day in my medical career: balance. And maintaining both strength and balance are vital to live a life of independence as we grow older. It may not matter now, but we pay it forward for sure. Whatever groundwork you lay now, will surely pay off in the long run.
Did you know that falls have become increasingly more common in people over the age of 65 over the past decade? About one out of four older people fall each year, which translates to approximately 36 million falls, and result in over 32,000 deaths annually. Every year, about 3 million older people are seen in emergency departments for a fall-related injury. One in five falls causes injuries such as broken bones or even head injuries. Falls are also the leading cause of death related to injuries in this age group. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “…the age-adjusted fall death rate increased by 41% […] in older adults in 2021…”. (Find the link here: https://www.cdc.gov/falls/index.html)
These statistics are pretty discouraging, especially when you think that we are approaching older age with absolute certainty in life (unless cut short by tragic events), and that many of our loved ones and older family members are likely already in this age group. Or maybe they have already dealt with a fall and its consequences. Other than the financial costs, it takes a huge emotional toll.
Another noteworthy fact is that that approximately 60% of falls happen in the home. If you are interested in learning more about prevention of falls in the elderly, please refer to the links provided here:
But how can we keep ourselves from getting wobbly in the first place? Or at least keep our bodies in shape to minimize the risk of taking tumbles as we get up there in years?
I have not danced in many years but make it to the gym with my awesome trainer on a fairly regular basis. (Recall my trainer who has kept me lifting, toned and strong! Read my post here https://www.inspiredlifetransitions.com/post/eat-yourself-into-old-age). We frequently chat about how age is changing our bodies, and what can be done to keep them going.
During my ballet hay days, I was given a solo for a South Indian dance style called Bharatnatyam. I never thought I would be able to make it even through the learning stage since I pretty regularly toppled off my one-legged stances while also trying to do five different other things with my remaining limbs. Bharatnatyam is a beautiful and very graceful style of dance. If you have ever had the great fortune to watch a performance, you know what I’m talking about. It really made my balance and core strength soar to new heights, but chances are, you are less likely to be training for a South Indian dance performance right off the bat and are looking for something a little more practical and accessible wherever you reside.
So I asked my awesome trainer, Zach Tavcar, Personal Trainer and Life Coach extraordinaire, straight up: What are some exercises that are easy to do in and out of the gym that keep your core strong and your balance…well, balanced.
Here are 10 exercises to get you started:
1. Plank: Planks are a great way to engage your entire core, from your abdominal muscles (think six-pack) to the muscles all the way from your shoulders to your lower back. This will also help keep your posture straight and your spine aligned which prevents back pain or helps alleviate it over time.
a. Position yourself as if you are doing a pushup, but with your elbows on the ground and under your shoulders and keep feet hip-width apart.
b. Rest your weight on your forearms and your toes. Be sure to keep your body in a straight line without sagging or arching like a cat. Hold the position for as long as possible.
2. Sit ups: I loved these since my school days since they are fun to do with a partner, but you can also do them alone. They are great for your abs (think six-pack again), and also strengthen you hip flexor muscles which also keeps your pelvis straight while upright and aids in good posture.
a. Simply lie on your back and lift your torso.
b. If you need to secure your feet, stick them under a ledge, or have a partner hold them to the ground for you.
3. Leg lifts: keep your abs and hip flexors strong with this exercise as well.
a. Lie on your back with your legs straight and together.
b. Keep your legs straight and lift them all the way up to the ceiling until your butt comes off the floor.
c. Slowly lower your legs back down until they are just above the floor.
d. Hold them there for a moment, then repeat the raise.
4. Squats: these are an important exercise to help build up strength in your lower body and core.
a. Stand with your feet slightly more hip width apart with your toes in a neutral position.
b. Then lower your hips, bending your knees, and stand back up. You can vary the depth to your needs, and also add weights for more impact on muscle development.
c. Be sure to not descend too fast or pitch too far forward to avoid injury to your lower back and discs and ensure that your knees align with the direction of your toes to avoid meniscus injuries.
5. Romanian deadlifts: great to strengthen your lower back, hamstrings, glutes, and your trapezius muscle which holds the upper part of your back.
a. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and put a barbell in front of you.
b. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips, keeping your back straight and your core engaged.
c. Grip the barbell with an overhand grip.
d. Lift the bar bell off the ground by extending your hips and standing up straight.
e. Keep the barbell close to your body throughout the movement.
f. Lower the barbell by hinging at your hips and pushing your butt back, keeping your back straight and your core engaged.
g. Lower the barbell until it reaches mid-shin level.
6. Step-back lunges: Easy to do also as a warmup exercise together with squats.
a. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips or by your sides.
b. Take a step back with your left foot, lowering your left knee towards the ground.
c. Your left knee should be just above the ground but not touch the ground.
d. Stand back up and repeat with the other foot.
7. Superman: you won’t have superman-like strength but your body will thank you nonetheless, especially your lower back, your glutes and hamstrings again.
a. Lie face down on the ground with your arms extended in front of you and your legs straight behind you.
b. Engage your core and glutes, and lift your arms, chest, and legs off the ground at the same time.
c. Hold the lifted position for a few seconds, squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades together.
d. Then lower your arms, chest, and legs back to the ground.
8. Push-ups: my least favorite for sure but very helpful to get your chest, arms and shoulder muscles toned, as well as all the same muscles you activate in a plank.
a. Start in a plank position with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the ground, and your feet together.
b. Your body should be in a straight line from head to feet.
c. Lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows, keeping them tucked in towards your sides.
d. Then raise your body back up by straightening your elbows.
9. Side plank: Another great way to buff up your core!
a. Lie on your side with your legs straight and your feet stacked on top of each other.
b. Place your elbow directly underneath your shoulder, and prop yourself up on your forearm, keeping your body in a straight line from your head to your feet.
c. Engage your core and lift your hips off the ground.
d. Hold the lifted position a few seconds, squeezing your oblique abdominal muscles and glutes.
e. Then, lower yourself to the ground again. Repeat on both sides.
10. N-ups: I love these! For some reason, my body gets happy when I get to do N-ups. Your abs, hip flexor muscles, and belly will be happy as well.
a. Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended over your head.
b. Engage your core and lift your arms and legs at the same time, while bending your legs at the knees as you do so. Your body will form an “N”.
c. Touch your ankles as you bring your feet in, then stretch back out.
Of course, before starting, make sure you warm up and if you have concerns about injuries or are struggling with any type of physical limitations, had surgery, have heart disease, or are experiencing acute or chronic pain, please talk to your doctor first before exercising.
If you like to learn more about keeping fit, or are interested in personal training in our beautiful Reno/Tahoe area, check out Zach Tavcar’s website here:
I hope this little guide helps you stay fit and mobile for a long time to come. If you have any exercises that you love and that have kept you strong and balanced, or that are simply fun to do, please share them below in the comments!
Until next time,
XOXO from Katharina 😊