Top 3 Essentials for Older Adults: Balance, Strength, and Flexibility

Top 3 Essentials for Older Adults: Balance, Strength, and Flexibility

Key Takeaways:

  • Yoga older adults Maintaining or reclaiming balance, strength, and flexibility is the key to health and wellness as we age.
  • Without these optimal components, falling and other enemies to independence may result.
  • Learn the impact of balance, strength, and flexibility on growing older and what you can start doing today to embrace aging well.Yoga older adults

Introduction

Walking toward older age does not have to be a journey of frailty and falls. Learn the three crucial physical aspects every aging adult needs to improve and maintain right now and embrace well-being and safety in the years to come.

The old stereotype of the frail senior is out.

What’s in? Knowing what to do right now to improve the odds of aging well. 

It’s true that getting older does not have to equal getting weaker. The caveat here is that every aging individual must approach each passing calendar year by targeting the physical goals of maintaining better balance, strength, and flexibility.

Like it or not, the aging body does undergo a certain level of decline. The most significant downturn in an otherwise healthy body is what’s called sarcopenia or decreased muscle mass and strength.

In addition, inflexible joints and connective tissue surrounded by all the weakened muscles compound the situation. This may eventually lead to poor range of motion and falling.

Falls

No one wants to fall.

However, falling is an epidemic among people over 65. If four older adults are at the dinner table, statistically one of them will fall within a year. Fall once and you double your chances of falling again.

Unfortunately, one in 10 falls results in broken bones. This will most likely be the top of the femur, otherwise known as a broken hip.

But wait, there’s more!

Traumatic brain injuries, or other injuries requiring costly hospitalizations, may occur. Depending on the individual, just one fall can lead to a permanent loss of independence or even death.

Most older adults brush off the possibility of falling. No matter your age, you might have a fear of falling in the future.
Fear of falling, even without a previous fall, may affect quality of life as well. It can reduce physical activities that maintain wellness like taking daily walks and even showering. In turn, this can impact mental health.

Here’s the vicious cycle: fear of falling leads to less activity; less activity leads to decreased balance, strength, and flexibility; loss of these three can lead to less confidence and a fear of falls. Eventually, and statistically, this leads to falling.

More than a fear of falling

With decreased balance, strength, and flexibility, it becomes more difficult to take care of the activities of daily living or ADLs. Things we take for granted like bathing/grooming, toileting, dressing, transferring, walking, and eating meals become problematic chores.

Without maintaining optimal balance, strength, and flexibility, aging adults can lose their overall quality of life. Being unable to perform ADLs affects independence and mental health because of these incremental losses.

Here’s the good news: you have the power to maintain or even regain your quality of life in older age–and fast!

Decades of research prove that exercises and activities that focus on the needs of aging individuals significantly reduce the risk of falling. It doesn’t take long to see results either.

For example, one study showed that in just 12 weeks of targeted balance strength, and flexibility training there was a valid improvement in all three for older adults.

Another, more recent study demonstrated that doing senior-focused training two times a week for just 10 weeks significantly improved quality of life and lowered fall risks at the same time.

These three dynamics—balance, strength, and flexibility– all work together. The result? When you work on one, the other two improve as well.

Blueprint for better aging

Taking a focused approach to aging today is the key to remaining empowered tomorrow. Younger or older, you can upgrade your well-being and safety at any age.

Here are the top 3 essential targets:

Balance

Losing the ability to maintain balance makes things you never had to think about become hazards. When was the last time you had to prepare to get up from a chair? Climb a set of stairs? Turn around in the shower?

By spotlighting exercises and activities that improve balance, your “get up and go” improves. Walking, especially on uneven surfaces, becomes less of a danger. Adaptive equipment like a walker or cane may become a dust collector over time with better balance.

With training in balancing skills, older adults can retrain their muscles and regain improved balance with both standing and walking. That’s because muscles have plasticity–muscle memory–that can aid in remembering what it was like to have better balance and in learning new balance techniques to compensate for any losses.

Strength

Repeatedly, strength/resistance training is proven to reduce muscle wasting and falls in older adults. In addition, building muscle mass helps cushion possible future falls and may help you to avoid bone fractures.

Light weightlifting builds muscles, strengthens joints, and stabilizes the spine-hip axis. Certain types of workouts, known as resistance training, have the added benefit of improved bone density.

Flexibility

When muscles and joints are ignored, they become stiff.

It can become hard or painful to reach for dinner plates in the cupboard, never mind squatting down to help a child with their toy.

By regularly extending and lengthening muscle groups and improving the range of motion in joints, you can keep doing the activities you love.

Flexible hips help with all bending and reaching as well as adapting to unexpected movements needed for balancing. Think: bumpy trail hiking or stepping on a hose in the garden.

Strategies for today’s aging adult

You can often find formal classes that focus on the needs of the older adult at your local senior or recreation center. Another resource is free online video instruction; make sure to search for balance, strength, and flexibility programs for your age group.

Before considering these ideas, speak to your primary care provider if you have concerning health conditions.

Take an aquatic exercise class.
Water activities reduce impact on joints and stiff muscles. Water also creates natural resistance training.

Swim laps weekly.
This works for all your major muscle groups and your shoulders stay mobile. Each stroke promotes optimal flexibility.

Try yoga.
You don’t have to fold into a pretzel to reap the benefits of yoga. Yoga older adults poses have the unique ability to focus on all three core essentials: balance, strength, and flexibility. Check out chair yoga classes if standing poses seem intimidating.Yoga older adults

Replace your office chair with a yoga ball.
The instability of a yoga ball requires your body to make slight, even imperceptible, adjustments while you sit on it. This can strengthen back and hip muscles as well as improve balance. Feeling adventurous? Look into using what’s called a balance board. Again, this unstable surface assists the user in finetuning balance abilities.

Seek out a pelvic floor therapist.
You may have heard about the benefits of Kegel exercises. Pelvic floor therapists are a new addition to health and wellness, beyond Kegels. Whatever your sex, improving pelvic muscles help with hip strength and flexibility. It may even spice up your sex life!

Get regular foot care.
Seek out a podiatrist or foot care nurse who can keep callouses and corns at bay. Not only will these medical providers keep nails trimmed, but they can also alert you to non-healing wounds or developing circulation issues. Without optimal foot health, balance suffers.

Make sure you’re wearing the correct shoe size.
Many older adults think they still wear the same shoe size as they did in high school. In fact, feet can grow and spread with every passing year. The right fit provides a solid foundation for all activities.
Locate a gym trainer who specializes in assisting older adults. A 25-year-old body needs a different approach in the gym than a 55-year-old. Older bodies may need alternative machines, free weights, or elastic resistance bands. Specialized intensity levels and numbers of repetitions for older joints and balance requirements can be worked into a program that’s made just for you.

Ask your primary care provider if a physical therapy referral is right for you. And while you’re at it, ask them to review your current medications. For example, certain pharmaceuticals have side effects that can make you sleepy, dizzy, or have muscle pain.

Loss of balance, strength, and flexibility doesn’t happen overnight. No matter your current age, it’s time to use it or lose it.

Start now by making it your goal to maintain or improve muscle mass and strength. This further stabilizes joints and connective tissues like tendons and ligaments. This creates more vigorous balance abilities. Preserving flexibility throughout the body completes this dynamic trio in safeguarding mobility for a lifetime.

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