As a senior adult, getting the proper amount of exercise may be a challenge. As we age, we have to work pretty hard to keep our muscles stretched and flexible. If we don’t, it is easier to lose our balance or to have difficulty doing simple things we used to take for granted, such as reaching a top kitchen cabinet shelf, or bending over to put on shoes.
Two therapists with AEGIS Therapies, Erin and Lace, who work in Fair Haven’s short-term rehabilitation center, recently participated in the second half of a Facebook LIVE video to introduce 12 exercises and 2 stretches that you can do at home each day to help strengthen your balance and flexibility and bring back some of what you may have lost. (The first half of the video is resident Margaret Hooper with some strength exercises!) Below you will find those 12 Balance and Flexibility Exercises, with snapshots from the video, so let’s get started!
Half of the following exercises can be done while seated. For some of the standing exercises, you will need to grasp a steady chair or other sturdy object, like a countertop, in order to assist with balance during the exercise.
SIMPLE TWIST: Grab a dowel rod, cane, yard stick, broom or other light-weight stick. With feet flat on the floor, standing tall or seated upright with back straight, grasp the rod with both hands (hands over the top of the rod, shoulder width apart), raise the rod to chest height in front of you, and twist your upper body gently and slowly left and then right as far as you can go without pain or strain. Repeat 10 times (also known as reps).
LEAN FORWARD: With the rod outstretched in front of you at shoulder width and chest height, starting with a straight back, lean forward as far as you can without pain or strain, bending at the waist, and then lean back to your straight-backed starting position. Do 10 reps.
SIDE SHIFTS: Put down the rod. If you are standing, it’s important to make sure your legs are far enough apart to give you a wide, balanced stance. Raise your arms straight out to the sides (like an airplane), and lean first to one side, then the other, shifting your weight from side to side. If standing, your weight is shifting from one foot to the other. If you are seated, you are using your waist and hips as the shifting point. Do 10 reps.
HEELS RAISES: This is a leg strengthening exercise, getting up on tippy toes. If standing, you may find it easier to grasp a sturdy chair with one hand during this exercise. Leave toes on the ground and lift both heels, at the same time, as far as you can without pain or strain, then lower the heels back down to the floor. Do 10 reps.
TOE RAISES: Another leg strengthening exercise, this one is for the muscles in the front of your legs. If standing, it helps to grasp a sturdy chair during this exercise. Start with both feet firmly on the ground and then lift your toes off the floor as high as you can without pain or strain. Then lower your toes back down to the floor. Do 10 reps.
TOE TOUCHES: This is great exercise for maintaining or regaining the flexibility to put shoes or pants on. Start with a straight back, seated or standing. Lean down slowly as far as you can toward touching your toes without pain or strain. It’s ok if you don’t actually reach your toes, just head that direction. Then come back up to your straight-backed position. Do 10 reps.
REACH ACROSS: Start with a straight back. If you are standing, a wider stance provides more balance for this exercise. Stretch one arm straight across your chest to twist and lean in the direction of your fingertips reach as far as you can without pain or strain. Stretch the other arm and twist to its opposite side in the same way. Do 10 reps, so that you reach across your chest to both sides 10 times each.
LEG LIFTS: This is a standing exercise. Grasp a sturdy chair and stand with feet flat on the floor. Lift one of your legs out to the side, keeping the knee straightened and lifting the leg as high as you can without pain or strain. Do 10 reps. Then repeat with the other leg.
HIP EXTENSIONS: This is a standing exercise. With both hands, grasp a sturdy chair. With legs at a normal, comfortable stance, toes forward, lift one leg straight back behind you as far as you can without pain or strain, then bring it back down to the floor. Do 10 reps with the same leg. Then switch legs and repeat.
SINGLE LEG STANCE: This is a standing exercise. With both hands, grasp a sturdy chair. With legs at a normal, comfortable stance, toes forward, bend one leg at the knee to pull one foot off the floor to bring the lower leg to almost parallel with the floor. Try to hold it there behind you for about 20 seconds. Then place the foot back on the floor. Then do the other leg, holding for about 20 seconds.
HEEL TO TOE: This is a standing exercise. With both hands, grasp a sturdy chair. With legs at a normal, comfortable stance, toes forward, bring one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. Hold for 20 seconds. As you progress in this exercise, you can begin to let go of one hand, maybe even progress to letting go of both hands, or just barely touching the chair intermittently to maintain balance. Switch feet, putting the other foot forward, heel to toe, and hold for 20 seconds. If you find it difficult at first to stand heel to toe, you can slide the front foot slightly out to the side.
CLOCK REACH: This is a standing exercise. Grasping a steady chair with one hand, stand with feet together far enough away from the chair to create a comfortable circle around your feet. Beginning with the right foot, keep the left foot on the ground and bring the right foot in front of you to the 12 o’clock position, then to the 3 o’clock position, back to the 6 o’clock position, and then swing the leg around in front of the left leg to reach the 9 o’clock position. Circle the clock in this way with your right foot 10 times. Then repeat with the left leg, going counter-clockwise to 12 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 6 o’clock, then swing the leg round the front of the right leg to reach the 3 o’clock position. Circle the clock in this way with your left foot 10 times.
CALF STRETCH: Grasp a steady chair or other sturdy object with one hand. Facing the chair, put your left leg back slightly and keep it flat to the floor. Bend the knee of your right foot, which is slightly forward and lean forward until you can feel a slight stretch in the back of your left leg. Do not let the heel of our left foot come off of the floor. Hold for 20 seconds. Switch and stretch the right leg in the same way for 20 seconds.
HAMSTRING STRETCH: Grasp a steady chair or other sturdy object with one hand. Facing the chair, put your left leg back slightly, with knee slightly bent. Keep your right leg straight and lean forward slightly until you feel a slight stretch in your right leg. Hold for 20 seconds. Switch legs and stretch your left hamstring in the same way for 20 seconds.
As you continue to do exercises like these each day, you can gradually improve your balance and flexibility to remain as independent as you can for as long as you can.
For more information about life at Fair Haven, including details on our how to make Fair Haven your new home, contact lifestyle specialist Ardell Fleeson at 205-956-4150, or send an email to her at AFleeson@fairhavenbirmingham.org.