As a Geriatric Kinesiologist, I have worked with many individuals who have slowed down and want to speed up. There are often many emotions expressed of sorrow, shame, and embarrassment that their bodies cannot move as well as they once did. As I grow older, I can now relate to and understand to a certain degree what that feels like.
As a young college student, I loved to be in the gym. I exercised more than I studied because I loved what the human body could do and I was fascinated. Now I take what I learned in school and apply it not only to myself but to the older population that I serve with the humility that our body declines with time. Yet even though the body slows down, we can still keep it mobile with simple movements. In this article, I will share the three simple exercises that I teach to keep your body primed without having to go to the gym.
The foundational basics
Each of the exercises presented below can be done seated or standing depending on your physical ability level or preference. If you have excellent or decent balance, I encourage you to try them from a standing position. If you have a history of falls or unstable balance, it is best to do the movements seated. If you opt for standing, be sure there is something to hold onto nearby for extra balance and support that way you can easily catch yourself should you lose your balance. Lastly, as we increase heart rate, we will need more oxygen, so be sure to breathe! We tend to hold our breath in intense moments; we must do the opposite!
Let’s get moving!
Movement 1: Marching in Place
This movement is everything it sounds like. To begin, find an area that is clear and safe to stand or sit in without clutter to trip on. The aim of this exercise is to stay in the same spot and march at a decently fast cadence to get your heart rate up. As you march in place, do your best to bring your knees up to hip level or close to it. Keep your stomach engaged by squeezing the belly button in and keeping your spine straight while looking forward. Avoid looking down at the floor.
It is recommended to march for 15-30 seconds 3 times (sets) with a 1 min rest break in between.
Movement 2: Toe Taps
The best way to describe this exercise is to think of a dancer. This exercise is great because it is versatile in the directions you want to tap the toe. Often times this exercise will tap in the direction of a cross, meaning the toe will tap in all four directions. In this exercise, we will focus on forward toe taps meaning that we will only be tapping the toes in front of us. As you excel with this movement, I encourage you to try different directions!
The aim of this movement is similar to marching in place where we want to go at a decent pace to raise our heart rate. If performing this exercise standing, then we are also adding in coordination and balance.
To begin, shift the weight to the standing leg, keeping the belly taught, with the chest straight and shoulders back. Posture is important here. Then tap the other foot in the space in front of you with your toes. Bring the foot back and switch legs. Alternate between each leg for 8-12 taps on each side. Remember to avoid looking down at your feet. The faster you do this exercise, the faster your heart will race so remember to breathe!
Movement 3: Sit-to-Stands
The most complex yet beneficial of the three exercises is sit-to-stands. As it names, in this movement, we move from sitting to standing. This exercise is one of my favorites to teach to my clients! Although it may sound rather simple and easy, there is actually a lot of biomechanics involved.
The aim of this movement is to strengthen the lower body and improve balance. Sitting and standing are two of the main movements we do throughout the day, so let’s make it easier!
This exercise requires a stable chair that does not have any wheels! It should be a chair with a firm seat and not a couch or sofa. We begin in a seated position with both feet planted on the floor. Look down at your ankles and notice if they are near the chair legs or underneath your knees. They should be underneath your knees making the knees bent at a 90-degree angle. This position will protect your knees on the way up and down.
As we prepare to stand up, squeeze the belly button in and slightly lean the chest forward. Push through the heels of your feet to stand up and squeeze your bum once fully standing. Each of these contractions will keep your body in alignment and less likely to fall. Do your best to avoid using your hands to push up into standing.
Once standing, slowly lower back down toward the chair leading with the hips. Again do your best to not use your hands for assistance and avoid plopping down on the chair. The more control you have going down, the more you’re working your muscles. This is a challenging exercise, you can do it!
When in doubt, move your body
Movement is an essential and vital part of health and well-being. Even though the body changes and shifts over time, movement is still the salve we all need. Much like a car, there is going to be natural wear and tear with periodic maintenance to be had. Movement is the fuel the body needs to keep the blood circulating to nourish cells. Apply these three simple exercises to your weekly routine to keep you mobile, active, and feeling great!
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about keeping your health in shape, head over to walkwithpop.com and take advantage of our complimentary resources. You can also reach out to me to work one-on-one with your health. Remember that movement doesn’t have to be rigorous or done in the gym only. Movement is accessible for all people at all levels!
About the Author
Mercedes Fernandez is a Geriatric Kinesiologist and is the founder of Walk With Pop. She helps older adults feel included and connected with others through companion walking. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology with an extensive pre-medical background in psychology, anatomy, and nutrition. She is a certified senior fitness instructor and authorized CPR/First Aid responder under the American Red Cross. Along with her professional experience, Mercedes was also her grandfather's primary caregiver, enriching her personal experience of senior health care. Her deeply rooted passion to serve older adults began from an early age where she played piano at nursing homes at the age of 8. Today, Mercedes continues to have deep care and compassion for older adults and advocates for adequate senior health care.