Stay spry with these 5 must-do activities

Conquer achy joints, slower metabolisms and decreased muscle strength by using movement to your advantage.
Keep moving to keep healthy as you age. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Keep moving to keep healthy as you age. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Baby Boomers are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 people a day.

For many, hitting that milestone comes with achy joints, slower metabolism and decreased muscle strength.

So what can Boomers do to stay active and healthy—and avoid sinking into pain and disability?

The best advice is to stay active as much as possible, noted Erin Burgess, PT, OCS, a physical therapist specializing in outpatient orthopedics at Spectrum Health Rehabilitation Services.

“Mobility is medicine,” Burgess said. “Being active keeps you sound of body and mind.”

Whether it’s biking, hiking, gardening, swimming, taking a walk with your grandchildren or hitting the gym, movement is key.

“My passion is for people to do what they like to do,” she said. “You have to find an activity that you enjoy or you won’t do it.”

Top 5 moves to make:

1. Work your cardiovascular system

Burgess recommends that everyone, regardless of age, get 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity a day.

That includes anything that gets your heart pumping–and keeps it pumping–for a sustained period of time.

This could be taking a brisk walk, swimming, biking or doing light aerobic activity at the gym.

2. Invest in strength training

As we age, our muscle fibers shrink and we lose strength. Strength training helps reverse that process.

That doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym every day, unless you want to, Burgess said. Here are two simple exercises you can do at home:

  • Wall squats: Stand with your back against a wall, placing your feet hip-distance apart about 2 feet out in front of you. Bending your knees, slide your back down the wall until your knees are at 90-degree angles. Your knee joints should be over your ankle joints, so you may need to inch your feet further from the wall to create proper alignment. Your thighs should remain parallel. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, and then stand up. Repeat for a total of three reps.
  • Wall push-ups: Stand at arm’s length from a wall and extend your arms so your hands are flat on the wall at shoulder height, with your thumbs touching each other. Inhale and, in one movement, press your body toward the wall as if you’re doing a push-up. Exhale and push back to the original position, keeping your elbows close to your sides throughout.

3. Maintain your balance

Studies show that balance declines with age, especially if the body’s system that maintains it isn’t challenged regularly. Decreased balance can lead to falls, which can have nasty consequences.

Burgess suggests the following methods for keeping your balance in tip-top shape:

  • Stand in a safe environment, for instance with a chair in front of you and a counter behind you. Practice balancing on one leg and then on the other. Try closing your eyes and doing the same.
  • Practice standing heel to toe or standing with your feet close together.
  • Practice getting in and out of a chair without using your hands.

4. Increase flexibility

As we age, our muscles lose their ability to stretch or extend as far as they used to. Stretching can help maintain our flexibility.

Burgess suggests starting with stretching your calves and hamstrings:

  • Calf stretch: Stand facing a wall slightly farther than arm’s length from the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and bend your right knee. Keeping both feet flat on the floor, bend your left knee slightly until you feel a stretch in your left calf muscle. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds, and then return to a starting position. Repeat with your left leg.
  • Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back with your left knee bent and your left foot flat on the floor. Raise your right leg, keeping your knee slightly bent. Reach up and grasp your right leg with both hands. Keep your head and shoulders flat on the floor. Gently pull your right leg toward your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat.

5. Keep good posture

Maintaining good posture can not only keep you feeling more youthful, but also looking more youthful.

Burgess said seniors can stand tall with some of these exercises:

  • Stretch the spine: Lay on a flat surface or with a foam roller under the small of your back to stretch the spine into a straight position.
  • Reverse the curve: Choose activities which reverse the curve of the spine. Sitting and bending are common positions throughout the day, so maintaining flexibility and strength in the opposite direction is important. Practice walking tall to improve your shoulder blade and back strength while maintaining your flexibility.

Burgess encourages Baby Boomers to get moving, safely, today.

“If your body says ‘no,’ it’s saying ‘no’ and you should listen,” Burgess said. “It might just need a more gradual progression.”

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Comments (5)

  • Liked the article, and fortunately my wife and I who are in our mid-to-late 60’s do basically everything the article recommended. However, I hate the term “spry”; it’s an antiquated expression used by my grandmother’s generation to describe older people a long time ago, and is out of place in an article targeted to boomers. How about substituting “fit” or “in-shape”?

    • Thank you, Thomas, for your comments, and great job to both you and your wife on keeping fit and in shape. We’ll consider wording on future articles on similar topics, perhaps ‘lively’ or ‘active’ would suffice, as those are synonyms for ‘spry’ and ‘spry’ involves more than just being fit… Thank you for your suggestions and for being a Health Beat reader! Cheers, Cheryl

  • I think the exercises look hard for a baby-boomer who is out of shape.
    How can I adjust them to my ability.

    • Hi Marty! Good question. It can seem daunting. We suggest starting off slowly. Instead of trying to go for 30 minutes, how about a 10-minute walk? Adding a few extra minutes to your regimen each week until you build yourself up to 30 minutes? While sitting, you can also use soup cans (small cans at first if big cans are too heavy) to work out your upper body a bit. Do as much as you can from this list, gradually working your way into the full regimen. Remember what she says at the end: “It might just need a more gradual progression.” Also, feel free to reach out to a personal trainer or sports medicine/physical therapist to get personalized plans for you.

  • This is a great article! Exercise is a must as we age. There are some very physically fit ‘baby boomers’ but I don’t think this article is targeting them…more, those who have not been physically active to this point – it’s never too late to start!

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