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Strength Training for Aging Adults

At Hilton Head Health, we have several aging adults who come to me with concerns about safe exercise. Check out these functional exercises targeted specifically for those ages 50 and older. Functional exercise is important for this age group to increase mobility and keep joints from stiffening.

 Balance Exercises:

  1. Walk The Line. Find a flat surface, preferably one with a visible line you can follow, such as tiles on the floor. Try your best to walk straight for about ten feet, then walk back. Focus on standing tall and straight while walking with one foot in front of the other, heel to toe.  Repeat this 2-4 times. This exercise will help to challenge your balance and everyday functional fitness.
  2. Standing on one Foot. Stand tall with both feet on the floor. Focus on a fixed point ahead of you, eye level or above. Slowly raise one leg. As the raised foot maintains dorsiflexion, invite the leg to raise higher. Perform this by inviting in the quadriceps muscle integration. Ideally, hold your balance for 30-60 seconds, lifting the leg higher each 10 seconds. If you currently struggle with balance, use a chair or wall to help stabilize yourself. Once you have completed two to four rounds of the 30-60 second hold, switch to the other foot and repeat the series. Be mindful as it is okay if you wobble a bit or have to drop your leg for a second.  Adjust, re-center and simply pick it back up and continue the 30-60 second set. This exercise, if done regularly, will help to challenge your core strength and balance.

Leg Exercises:

  1. Chair Squats (2 sets/12-15reps). Start seated with your feet flat on the floor, legs in a 90 degree angle. Without using your hands, stand up from the chair- sit back down, and repeat. Be sure to push up through your heels, however adhere to a soft flat foot stance when standing up to avoid injuring your knees.  This exercise works your quadriceps, hamstrings, and core, as well as helps to strengthen weak knees and inspire everyday functional activity.
  2. Seated Leg Extensions (2sets/12-15 reps). While sitting in a chair, raise one leg in the air so it is in line with your hips. Keeping your foot flexed (dorsiflexion) while lifted. This will help to invigorate your quadriceps. Gently lower the leg back on the floor. Repeat this movement for 12-15 reps with your right leg, then switch legs. This exercise works your entire lower body and core, as well as it helps with functional balance.
  3. Standing Calf Raises. (2 sets/15-20 reps) Stand tall with both feet parallel and toes facing forward. Slowly raise your heels off the floor, thus lifting onto the balls of your feet. Hold at the top then slowly lower back down. You may want to stand next to a chair or wall for support if you find yourself having trouble with balance. To add variation, try pointing your feet outward (toes out to corners, heels in) and inward (toes in towards one another and heels out) thus, targeting various areas in the calves and/or place one foot hooked behind calve and raise one single leg. This exercise works your calves as well as help to promote balance and ankle flexibility/stability.

Arm/Core Exercises:

  1. Supermans. (2 sets/12-15 reps). Place a mat or towel on the floor. Lying down prone (on your stomach-head down, forehead center on mat), simultaneously raise your right arm and left leg. Try to keep your spine in line, and focus the attention on length vs. height. Once lifted, pause for a moment then slowly lower yourself down. Switch sides every repetition, therefore alternating the opposite arm and leg. This exercise works your spine, lower back, and lower core. If emphasis is on length, the exercise can help to strength upper back, lats, hamstrings, gluteus and core.
  2. Plank. Start in all fours with hands and knees on floor. Place your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. When ready, extend one leg back and plant the ball of your foot into the floor.  If you are comfortable here, plant the other foot into the floor and press up into a push-up starting position. If this is too challenging, drop to your knees. Be sure to engage your core and keep your tail bone tucked downward, however do not hyperextend. Your bum should be level with your body, as the body should be in a “plank” position.  Reach back through your heels to invigorate the upper leg muscles. Hold this position for 10-30 sec to start, then work your way up to one minute. Repeat 2-4 times per session.
  3. Wall pushups. (2sets/12-15 reps) Stand with about one to two feet between you and a wall. Place your hands on the wall in pushup position. Rise up on your toes, tuck your tailbone under and pull your lower belly in. Slowly lower yourself closer to the wall then push yourself away. The more distance you place between you and the wall, the more challenging this exercise will be. This exercise works chest muscles, biceps, triceps and core.
  4. Seated Chair Dip. (2sets/12-15 reps) Start by sitting in a chair. Set your feet as far away from the chair as you can and place your palms on the edge of the chair- fingers pointing to your bum. Slowly lower yourself so your backside almost touches the floor and or your elbows bend to a 90 degree angle. Press into your palms and use your triceps to raise yourself back to the starting position, elbows straight but not locked. This exercise works your triceps.
  5. Arm Circles. (2sets/25 reps) Standing or sitting tall, hold your arms out on each side. With your thumbs pointing up, slowly move your arms in a forward rotation. Then, point your thumbs down and move them in a backward rotation. Perform small quick circles. Do 2 sets of 20 -25 repetitions rotating forward as well as rotating back. This exercise works your shoulders. To integrate more balance, try standing on one foot!
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