Consistent progressive exercise is key to mobility

by Laura Bednar

When seniors reach a certain age, they may accept limited mobility as an inevitable result of growing older. However, a consistent and progressive fitness routine will not only improve mobility but provide other health benefits for people ranging anywhere from their 40s to their 90s.

Eric Schaefer, personal trainer at My Personal Trainer in Broadview Heights, said senior group classes at local YMCAs or through Silver Sneakers programs at city recreation centers focus on movement instead of progressive strength training, which builds muscle mass and improves balance.

Progressive training means increasing resistance and intensity over time. Schaefer suggested weight training that focuses on major muscle groups including legs, back, chest, shoulders and arms.

“There’s never a point where someone can’t do weights,” he said. “If you can move, you can improve.”

Bill Chilton, owner of and certified personal trainer at Snap Fitness Twinsburg, agreed, saying seniors need an environment that is unstable but safe to challenge them. He said the body starts to forget balance and other key functions as young as the early 40s. In today’s society, a sedentary lifestyle is common, leading to tight muscles and neglected areas of the body including the spine, hips, knees and ankles.

Chilton offered several exercises that could be done at home:

Upper body clamshell – From a seated or standing position raise both arms to form a goal post, bent at 90 degrees. Slowly bring forearms together in front of your face. Return to start position as you squeeze your shoulder blades.

Sit to stand – From a seated position and feet shoulder-width apart, push down through your heels, brace your core, and push upwards to finish in a standing position. Repeat 10 times.

Side bends – From seated or standing position, place one hand behind neck, extend other straight out to side. Brace core and rotate extended arm towards floor. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on other side.

He also suggested in-gym options including using resistance bands for shoulder rotations, using a seated low-back extension machine and standing high-knee marching. Schaefer said having professional guidance and visiting a gym is helpful to ensure seniors are properly using machines and increasing weight resistance over time.

Both trainers offered safety tips, especially for seniors who are starting fitness routines while injured or with other ailments. Chilton said seniors should consult with a professional to determine what exercises are feasible and then start slow. Schaefer said people can still strengthen muscles, even while injured, but the key is not to push the momentum and instead focus on the strength.

Consistency is key to an exercise program, though is not required every day. Schaefer said seniors may take longer to recover from a workout, and it’s important to choose exercises that are challenging but not overwhelming. Chilton added that repeating a fitness regimen three to five times a week is beneficial, and “check-ins with professionals are critical.”

Other exercise benefits are increased bone density, decreased chances for heart attacks and keeping any existing health conditions from becoming worse. Chilton said improving mobility also prevents falls in the home.

“Balance is a function of the brain,” he said, explaining that if the brain tells a specific body part to move and it physically can’t, other body parts will overcompensate. This leads to falls or other body strains.

Schaefer said by staying active and in good shape, seniors can save costs in the long run amid the rising costs of healthcare. According to Chilton, the goal of a fitness routine is to improve quality of life. Goals could be anything from being able to play with grandchildren to walking without a walker.

“There’s no reason seniors can’t functionally do something they used to do if they work on getting stronger,” Chilton said. “Their goal should be determining what they want to do more easily that they can’t do now.” ∞