5 Ways To Increase Mobility and Flexibility For Seniors
Over this past year-plus in Arizona, I have shifted my paradigm a bit to better help the folks here in this region. I've been working with more people who need a boost in their mobility and flexibility which have declined through age, surgery, years of disuse, and/or other chronic conditions such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, and fibromyalgia. The crux of the needs here center around a general closing down of movement due to pain or weakening in the systems throughout the body and most notably the muscles and joints. The more we have pain, the less we move. The less we move, the more chronic conditions and a lack of mobility/flexibility creep into our daily lives and remain. Today I would love to help even more people by sharing what I have been working on with my current clients to remedy this very issue through these five steps: 1) Getting Up and Moving Everyday, 2) Range of Motion Exercises/Dynamic Stretching, 3) Balance Work, 4) Proper Nutrition, and 5) Static Stretching.
1) Getting Up and Moving Everyday: This may sound like a simple solution... and it is. Many of the issues that I've been working on have been worsened through a lack of daily movement by the client. When pain shows up when we walk there is a propensity to move away from the pain and settle into a seated position for hours at a time. With so much time seated our muscles begin to atrophy not only around the pain site itself but throughout the entire body which can cause even more pain over time in other areas. As the muscles atrophy, the joints which they support are placed in greater peril every time that you get up or move suddenly. For example, when core muscles lose their strength you create an unstable environment for lower back health which can marry your body to that lack of movement even more. When muscles throughout the shoulder complex weaken you increase the risk for injury in another very necessary area for daily motion. These areas are especially key because they move through so many different planes of motion. The greater mobility of a particular joint, the less stability you will have in it, and will need stronger muscles to support them. With daily movement, you can help to ensure that this muscle loss can be managed more effectively and stop or lessen greatly. Every bit of movement counts!
2) Range-of-Motion Exercises/Dynamic Stretching: Following the course of movement in Step One, we now focus on each of the joints and how they are supposed to move. Before I begin any workout, I go through a series of range-of-motion exercises (or Dynamic Stretching) to warm up. These movements help to lubricate the joints and warm the muscles for greater activity. This is also a great way to begin your day as well. Always err on the side of safety and don't push too hard. This a gentle warm-up. You can begin with reaching exercises across your body for ten repetitions alternating between right and left arms. Next, with palms toward your face, reach up in front of you with one arm at a time as if you're attempting to plug your fingertips into the ceiling for ten repetitions with each side alternating. From there, move on to the legs. Stabilize your body if needed with a cane or chair as you march in place. As your muscles and joints warm-up, you should be able to march progressively higher, safely. After the march bring one heel at a time toward your derriere in a reverse march. This will help to hit different leg muscles and embolden your stride. To finish, we go back to the arms and go into a modified front swim stroke over the top in a range that is comfortable to you personally. Alternating arms back and forth for ten repetitions each to increase shoulder mobility. For those with good shoulder mobility, you can follow these with nice and easy backstrokes. If you have shoulder issues you can replace each of these with shoulder rolls to the front and back instead. You can also increase the repetitions of each of these stretches over time to produce a more cardiovascular effect and strengthen your heart and lungs.
3) Balance Work: For me, balance work can never begin early enough. These simple exercises are for everyone of any age and mobility. Stabilize your body as needed and go through a progression of one foot out in front with a ten to thirty second hold followed by the other, one foot out to the back with a ten to thirty-second hold for each leg, and one foot out to the side for a ten to thirty-second hold each leg. The important part of these exercises is that they are for your general health and confidence in walking and moving. This isn't a competition so just do what you can and progress as the days pass. As long as you are doing your best on any given day you are succeeding and your balance will continue to get better. Keep it simple and keep getting better, simply.
4) Proper Nutrition: This can get tricky at times on fixed incomes so, again, do your best. In order for your body to heal from different maladies that may be more acute or chronic specifically, proper nutrition can come to the rescue. Eating less processed foods and bolstering your diet with as many whole foods as possible will increase your intake of all essential vitamins and minerals while decreasing internal inflammation in an unsavory environment for healing. The better your nutrition, the better your body will be at healing and staving off other illnesses/conditions. Fruits, vegetables, and lean meats eaten with proper portion control can change your life for the better in their own right.
5) Static Stretching: At the end of any type of strenuous event or exercise and at the end of your day take the time to stretch. Static stretching is the familiar form of stretch in which you stretch and hold for thirty seconds. Make sure you take your time with each stretch as it takes the body at least twenty seconds to release the tautness in a muscle and adjust to the release of tension. Regular static stretching can have an amazing effect for your body in part and as a whole. Be gentle. Especially around sensitive/painful muscles and joints. Light stretching of these areas can increase blood flow and allow for faster healing in addition to releasing the day-to-day stiffness and ache from your body.
Best of luck to all of you! I've seen through first-hand experience that focusing on these every day will bring you great benefits. These are more than just flexibility exercises for seniors. These are simple ways to better your quality of life in a big way through consistent use. See if you can do these everyday for two weeks. It takes time to make a habit and it is easier to make a habit out of a practice that you can feel work over time. There is a very good chance that with a regular routine you will be able to increase shoulder mobility, increase hip mobility, become more flexible, and have greater confidence in your walking and overall movement. To the best possible self today... Carpe Diem!!!