Exercise As We Age

In my last blog, I shared with you the importance of nutrition, particularly protein, to support our functional strength as we age.   Maintaining good functional strength is important to a goal of being able to Age in Place, which is the ability to live in your own home and community safely, independently and comfortably.

Age related loss of muscle mass and function is called sarcopenia. Muscle is key to motion. As we age, significant changes in muscle mass and quality take place. After about age 50, muscle mass decreases at an annual rate of 1–2%. The decline in muscle strength is even higher, amounting to 1.5% per year between ages 50 and 60 and 3% per year thereafter.  Of those 65 and older, 16 to 18 percent of women and eight to 10 percent of men in the United States cannot lift ten pounds, bend forward to pick something up off the ground or kneel to the floor. After the age of 75, this increases to 66 percent of women and 28 percent of men being unable to lift more than ten pounds.

 Muscle strength is strongly correlated to physical independence and fall prevention. Loss of muscle mass and strength is related to functional impairment and an increased risk for a fall. Leg strength, particularly the ability to rise from a chair, has been found to be a major predictor of frailty and mortality. Leg strength and walking gait speed are two variables predicting fall risk. Additionally, muscular endurance necessary to maintain balance under multi-task conditions such as cooking, gardening or recreational activities, and the importance of muscular power in reactive balance such as slipping on ice or tripping over a curb are important fall risk factors in older adults.

What makes the biggest difference in our skeletal muscle mass and strength?  Exercise.  Specifically, weight bearing and resistance-based exercise which also improve our bone density and decrease our risk of osteoporosis.   Weight bearing exercise are activities that force you to work against gravity. Examples are walking, hiking, climbing stairs, playing tennis or golf (walk don’t ride a cart!), and dancing.   Exercise such as riding a bicycle is a weight supportive exercise.  The bicycle supports our weight.  While bicycling isn’t weight bearing exercise, we are using our largest skeletal muscles to power the bicycle.

Resistance-based exercise is also known as strength training.  Strength training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance. Resistance-based exercises increase strength, mass and endurance depending on how the exercises are performed.  The external resistance can be dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing or flat loop bands, your own bodyweight or any object that causes the muscle to contract. There are three movements of any resistance-based exercise:  concentric, isometric and eccentric.  Knowing how to utilize these movements properly, how much weight-resistance is used, the tempo of the exercise, and using proper technique to avoid injury and maximize effectiveness relative to your specific goals.  Training techniques differ for strength gains, muscle mass and muscle endurance.  For functional health, older adults need to focus on strength, muscle mass and muscular endurance.  While most everyone can implement a walking program into their life without any type of special training or guidance, I highly recommend guidance from a qualified therapist or a trainer who specializes in senior fitness. SilverSneakers® is a good source for exercise modalities for senior adults.   They have a website and a Facebook page where free information is provided to anyone and if you are a member (available through many Medicare Advantage Plans) you can attend SilverSneakers® classes for free or minimal cost if you are not a member.  I personally lead two SilverSneakers® classes every week.  An online resource I recommend is ElderGym.com  that provides quality information and free senior workout programs that can be performed at home, outdoors or in a gym.

Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.

Aging In Place

Is having the ability to live in your own home and community safely, independently and comfortably something you desire for yourself?  Personally, this is a primary goal of mine and I’m passionate about coaching others on how to maintain their health and functional strength to the greatest extent possible as they, inevitably, grow older.  Aging in Place is the ability to live in your own home for as long as you can and it is something that you work on starting right now, no matter your current age.

What are some obstacles to Aging in Place?  What are some reasons that individuals must leave their homes for Assisted Living or Long-Term Care facilities?

  • Poor Eyesight and/or Hearing
  • Reduced Muscle Mass/ Less Strength
  • Diminished endurance and stamina
  • Increased risk of accidents due to bone fragility, poor balance, loss of strength
  • Decreased mobility and agility
  • Decreased flexibility

The above-listed obstacles compromise our ability to perform Basic Activities of Daily Living.

  • Ability to move (walk) from one place to another as you go through daily routines
  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Getting in and out of a chair
  • Showering/ Bathing
  • Toileting
  • Personal hygiene.  Oral, skin and hair care.
  • Getting dressed
  • Preparing meals including cleaning up after meals; shopping for groceries
  • Self-Feeding

In order to successfully and safely live independently, we must have the functional capacity to perform the Basic Activities of Daily Living.   What can we be doing now to help ensure that we can be as functionally strong as possible as we age no matter what age we are currently?  Obviously, the sooner we start the better off we will be, but it is never too late to work on these things: 

  • Improve and Maintain your overall Functional Strength and Muscle Mass
  • Improve your Flexibility, Mobility, Balance and Coordination
  • Maintain and Improve your Cognitive Health 
  • Improve your Cardiovascular Fitness 

Exercise, Nutrition, Hydration, Social interaction and Mental stimulation are areas to focus on and are things that we can do, right now.   Watch for my upcoming blog posts  for real-life, realistic things you can start implementing to help yourself live a happier, healthier and more independent life.  There are many things in life that we cannot control. However, there are many things that we can.  Let’s focus on those.   

Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It. 

Longevity of Health & Our Core

I don’t care about having a six-pack, so why should I care about my core? Because. Your. Core. Is. Everything.

Something that makes me a bit crazy is when I hear someone say they need to do some core exercises because they want to rid themselves of belly fat. Typically, that doesn’t end the way they were hoping. Why? First of all, it isn’t just our abdominal muscles. Secondly, you can exercise those abdominal muscles all day long and you aren’t going to get rid of much belly fat. You will get stronger abdominal muscles, perhaps a sore back and often your midriff will get larger because you’ve overworked those ab muscles, and you still have fat on top of said muscles. To burn fat, it takes more than just throwing down a lot of targeted exercises for your rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis and the obliques. Instead, compound exercises, aerobic exercise and nutrition geared to fat loss is the name of the fat loss game.  But I digress.

Our core is a complex series of muscles that connect from our upper back down to our lower back and hips.  Essentially, it is our entire trunk – front and back.  From our upper back to our hips, our core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. These muscles can act as a stabilizer for movement, transfer force from one extremity to another or initiate movement itself. Our core is vitally important for our stability and balance.

Our core primarily works as a stabilizer and force transfer center rather than a prime mover. Yet, people consistently focus on training their core as a prime move in isolation – aka targeted abdominal exercises. They are doing crunches instead of deadlifts, overhead squats and pushups and other functional closed chain exercises. By training that way, not only are you missing out on a major function of the core, but you are missing out on more efficient movement, better strength gains and longevity of health. When it comes to our core our back, hips and pelvic floor should be getting lots more attention.

How does have a strong and well-functioning core impact our lives? As we age, and we are all aging every day, our health, our quality of life and our independence rely on a strong core.

  • Normal life stuff. Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, maintaining balance on an icy sidewalk, carrying groceries, walking up a steep flight of stairs or simply standing still are a few of the actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed use our core.
  • At Work.Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks — like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
  • Healthy Back.Low back pain is a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives and may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it.
  • Sports & Pleasure Activities.Golfing, tennis, biking, swimming, kayaking, playing with your children or grandchildren are powered by a strong core.
  • House & Yard work. Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, digging, hammering, reaching overhead, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting all utilize the core.
  • Balance & Stability.Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. A strong stable core protects against falls and injuries.
  • Good posture.Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture makes us all look better.

How can you have a healthier core and a healthier life? Core work is different from strength-training programs that isolate a single muscle group. Instead, they challenge as many muscles as possible in integrated, coordinated movements. Core moves should engage your entire body, from head to toe. A good place to start is with activities you enjoy and can incorporate into your daily life such as swimming, bicycling, yoga and walking with fitness poles. Beyond that, get a core assessment from a qualified physical therapist or personal trainer and implement a core strengthening and stabilizing training program in conjunction with developing a habit of incorporating daily exercise into your life.  A professional core assessment will include testing for core stability, static and dynamic strength; the training program will be customized for you based upon the results of your assessment.

Stay HEALTHY. Be STRONG. GET After It.