With everything life throws us, staying physically active as we age seems to get increasingly difficult to work into our schedule. After all, following a hard week’s work, the couch and a cool refreshment sound more appealing than hitting the treadmill.
A sedentary lifestyle not only affects the heart and lungs but can also lead to joint stiffness and reduced flexibility, and, unfortunately, this also tends to get worse as you age.
Maintaining flexibility can help prevent everyday injuries such as muscle and disk strains when getting out of bed, shoulder strains when lifting, backaches when transitioning from sitting to standing, and difficulty in picking up objects or climbing stairs. Flexibility can also improve circulation and posture.
Declining strength is another, oftentimes, frustrating part of getting older. Research has found that muscle mass decreases by 1% per year after age 50. While this may not sound like much, over a lifetime, it can have a big impact.
So, how do you combat this? Start focusing on ways you can improve your strength and flexibility now to help with mobility later, says Joel Lamica, a certified personal trainer at Texas Health Fitness Center Willowpark.
The Benefits of Strength Training as You Get Older
Increasing strength through training is essential for improving overall function. Focusing on building strong muscles and bones can help you gain more mobility, walk farther, and even prevent osteoporosis, the leading cause of fractures in older adults.
Additionally, older adults who participate in a regular resistance training routine often see improvements in their mental well-being.
While you may not initially think of lifting weights and flexibility as directly related, Lamica says they both stand to benefit from one another.
“There are some ways in which lifting weights can indirectly affect flexibility and vice versa,” he explains. “One of the main ways that lifting weights can improve flexibility is by increasing the range of motion around the joints. Resistance training exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, can help improve joint mobility by strengthening the muscles and tendons around the joint. This increased joint mobility can translate to improved flexibility in everyday movements and activities.”
Additionally, he adds that lifting weights can also help to prevent muscle imbalances that can lead to stiffness and decreased flexibility.
“When certain muscles become overdeveloped or stronger than others, it can cause imbalances that restrict joint movement,” he says. “By engaging in a well-rounded strength training program, you can help prevent these imbalances and maintain a good balance of strength and flexibility.”
Decreased Range of Motion
As you get older, your shoulders, hips and knees are usually the first areas you notice don’t move as well as they used to. That’s because your range of motion decreases due to changes in connective tissue, arthritis, loss of muscle mass and more.
In a study published in the Journal of Aging Research, researchers found a decrease in flexibility of the shoulder and hip joints by approximately 6 degrees per decade after the age of 55. However, they noted that age-related loss of flexibility does not significantly impact generally healthy older adults.
One of the best ways to combat these age-related physical concerns is to incorporate strength training and stretching into your routine at least three times a week. But if it’s been a while since you’ve worked out, or you’re concerned about where to start and what to use, that can seem a bit daunting.
The following workout is specially created to ease you into strength training and improving flexibility while targeting common age-prone areas of the body.
Bodyweight Split Squat
From a standing position for this variation of a squat, step right foot forward two feet and left foot back a foot. Bend the right knee while dropping the left knee and toes to the ground. Brace your core, keeping your back straight. Push through your right heel into a standing position. Return to starting position. Repeat six times, then switch sides. That’s one set. Rest for one minute, then repeat one to two more times.
You should feel this primarily in your quads (front thighs) as well as in your glutes (butt muscles) and hamstrings (back of your legs).
Optional way to do this: Hold onto a table or sturdy chair while you do this.
Lie on your stomach on a rug or yoga mat. Straighten your arms, making sure your hands are flat on the ground under your shoulders. Keeping your core braced, lower your body to a 90-degree bend in your elbows, then lift your body to the starting position. Press your toes into the floor, engaging your glutes and abs.
You should feel this primarily in your chest but also in your abs and triceps (muscles on the back of your arms).
Optional way to do this: If you can do 15 modified push-ups, try doing this in the traditional manner where your whole body is straight and off the ground. Or if the modifications are difficult, lean against a wall to do them.
Wall Elbow Pushes
Stand with your back and shoulders flat against a wall. Lift your arms so your upper arms are parallel to the floor and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Press your elbows into the wall as if you’re pulling your shoulder blades together.
Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat five more times. You should feel this primarily in your upper back as well as feeling fatigued in your arms.
Optional way to do this: Hold for 10 seconds and take more time between reps.
Begin by standing in a doorway with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides. Place your forearms against the sides of the doorway, with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and your palms facing forward. Slowly step forward with one foot, keeping your elbows and forearms against the doorway. You should feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders.
Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, making sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and not allowing them to hunch up towards your ears. Repeat the stretch with the other foot forward.
Optional way to do this: Lie on your back on the floor with your arms outstretched to the sides and then slowly lower them towards the floor.
Regularly engaging in strength training and stretching, even for short periods three times per week, can significantly delay or prevent many age-related ailments. Resistance training will improve strength and can reverse or delay the decline of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging. Flexibility activities incorporate gentle stretching and bending exercises that can help improve mobility and range of motion.
If you need more guidance, or want to jumpstart a routine, Texas Health Fitness Centers can help. Texas Health fitness centers not only provide a wide variety of gym equipment, but staff members can help explain and demonstrate how to properly use a piece of equipment or how to perform a certain exercise, giving you the base knowledge you need to make the most of your workout.
At a Texas Health fitness center, you don’t need a perfect body, and you don’t need fancy attire. All you need is the determination to feel and look your best. To learn more about the fitness programs at our hospital-based centers, visit TexasHealth.org/Fitness.