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6 Essential Exercises for Seniors to Stay Moving, Fit, and Pain-Free

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in May of 2023. For the original video go to

Mike: If you're in your mid-50s or early 60s, you may have noticed certain changes that make your everyday tasks a little more challenging or uncomfortable.

Brad: That's right Mike, and you're lucky that you have not experienced it yet, but there is good news because we've narrowed it down to six exercises that can help keep you moving, active, pain-free, and moving the way you would like to. So that's what we're going to get to today. We've got a nice little story I want to talk about putting this all together and you can relate to it. Alright, gather around, gather around, this story will take not much time, it happened a few years ago, I was 57, my brother was 60, and we grew up canoeing. We had a family canoe, very good at canoeing, and then we decided to go canoeing at the ages I just mentioned. It had been about 10 years before we stepped in a canoe prior. We stepped into the canoe and we both had this altering event. "Whoa, the canoe was wobbly, sit down," and we both thought we were going in the drink, into the lake, you know? And we both looked at each other without saying a word, we were thinking exactly the same thing. "What happened to us, this was so easy 10 years ago and now, we feel like fumbling fools," which we probably looked like. But the whole thing is, it's going to happen to you. It's like getting gray hair, et cetera, I mentioned it before, but Mike has some interesting news about this.

Mike: I kind of find it funny because my dad is 69 and he does fine in a canoe yet, but anyway. Studies have recently shown that there's often a decline in muscle mass, vision, and balance as we age. So, it's important to work on all those things as you age, so you can go canoeing like Brad wants to.

Brad: But there are also a number of studies that consistently show if you work on these things as you age, you can combat that decline and stay moving and healthy.

Mike: So, we're going to show you six exercises you can do. You don't need to do them at the gym, you can do them at home or go outside, and no extra money is needed.

Brad: So, these six exercises we've looked at and studied which ones are the best ones over our years of experience working with people. They're good exercises and the key is that you do them consistently at least three times a week and they're going to show benefits in your daily life. Alright, now these exercises do address a broad range of activities. So if you are just working on trying to improve your walking, improve your ability to do housework or get dressed, or you want to advance to playing golf, pickleball, maybe even tennis, some of those people our age are still going that far, they're all going to fit into this. We have some options that you can work with.

Mike: We do want to note a word of caution that if you've had a joint replacement or have some concerns about your health, maybe not do all these exercises or pick which ones pertain to you specifically and don't overdo it.

Brad: Right, if any of these exercises create any pain while you're doing it or after, that's a red check mark, do not do that exercise and you'll know what I'm talking about. Good judgment again is always important. Alright, the first exercise is a big one for pretty much everyone. It’s the sit-to-stand. It's going to help your balance, your strength going up and down steps, getting off the ground if you're gardening, et cetera. Now, Mike is going to show different options. Everyone has a different level to start with, he's going to, start with the beginner people and as you get advanced, you'll show more difficult ones, figure out where you are and then work with that. 10 repetitions are probably going to be enough when you get your level of intensity. Go ahead, Mike.

Mike: So to begin, I'm going to use some type of raised seat cushion here so it's gonna make it a little bit easier starting from a higher surface. You're going to want to scoot towards the edge of the chair to start and then push up with both hands, go up slowly, sit back down, use your hands to control it, and make sure you feel good and controlled. This is the basic beginner. If this is easy, then you can take out the pad, the same progression, and use both arms.

Mike: If you're like, "This is a piece of cake, Brad," try one arm. Just go up with one arm, push, and control, and try to make the legs do more of the work than the arm, they're here for support and balance. If you need them to push, you can, but try to avoid it.

Brad: I did want to just say if you don't happen to have a cushion like that, we often use pillows with people, a throw pillow, anything to elevate you. One inch of elevation makes a tremendous difference in the ease for the people who need that.

Mike: Now, if you don't need arm support, the next progression would be to fold your arms across your chest like this and then you're going to stand up and then sit down, make sure not to lean forward and round your back and then come up. Try to keep a nice, straight posture as you're doing it, sitting at the edge of the chair really helps with this. Now, say you feel unbalanced getting down, but you're strong, you can certainly reach back to make sure the chair's there, or you can simply touch your calves against the chair and then sit down.

Brad: So, the word is, and we've said this over the years in the therapy clinic, no plopping. In other words, don't let yourself plop down into the chair, it's not going to do anything good for anybody.

Mike: Yes, muscles strengthen going up and down. And the last progression, if you can lift your arms above your head, you can have your arms above your head and do 10 repetitions of this as well. Make sure you have your feet flat on the ground, don't just push through your heels because then you start to tip backward. Do 10 repetitions total like Brad said, and slowly progress that exercise each day.

Brad: Nice work, Mike, let's go on to number two. In this second exercise, we're going to give two options, but some people may think this is really a weird exercise. It's extremely functional, it's good for range of motion, and it's good for strength, and it's simply to get down to the floor and get back up. If you have something to hold onto if you need to, if you feel at all uncomfortable with this, we have the other option coming up. So this is for the more mobile people that can do this, but we want to maintain our mobility as we age. So down to the floor, everything is controlled, down to our butt, and you can sit there for a while and do some stretching. I like this one. Really good for the hips. Then you simply roll over to one side, hand on the floor to the quadruped position. Bring one foot up, if you have a chair handy and you need it, we're going to walk up the chair. If you don't need it, just go down, that's one repetition.

Brad: Down slowly, take your time, do that, maybe do a different stretch this time, and then go back up. My breath is starting to race already, I like it. Get back up. So the repetitions that you do is going to depend on how stable you are. If you're not stable, you stop, if you're getting tired, you stop, if you have joints that are hurting, then you're going to stop as well.

Brad: Okay, Michael, what about the people who are not appropriate for this, we've got an excellent exercise for that.

Mike: So you can just do a lunge variation if you're uncomfortable going down to the floor. So make sure to hold onto something for support, a countertop, a cane, a Booyah Stik, whatever you have.

Brad: We could put a chair here and you could hold onto that, but we're going to eliminate that because you can't see.

Mike: You're going to go in a staggered stance and I have something soft here because this knee is going to get down and it feels a lot better than the hard floor. So maybe if you have a pillow at home, make sure you're wearing shoes, you don't want your feet to slide out from underneath you, but you're going to hold on with your arms and try to lunge down and touch this. If you cannot touch it, it's okay, just go down to where you feel comfortable and then come back up. You're still getting some good strengthening in your leg muscles, and this is a very functional activity, an important exercise for getting off of the floor.

Brad: And I do want to mention, when you start, if you haven't done this before, don't even try to touch your knee to the cushion or the floor. Just go down a little way, do five of them. If it's really easy, then progress down. But if you go down and you can't get up because you've never done it before, it's a bad situation. So work with that cautiously and progressively.

Mike: Again, try to keep an upright posture with your back, you don't want to be rounded over like this the whole time doing it.

Brad: That's right and, of course, do both legs. Okay, the third one specifically addresses standing balance. So the first thing is to stand simply on one foot. The goal is 30 seconds. If you can stand for 30 seconds, then you're probably quite balanced and doing very well. A lot of people may need something to hold onto. If your balance is off, you must go up to a countertop or a solid chair with both hands and attempt. Make sure you have a timer, it really helps to time this. Go for that 30 seconds. The progression, if your balance is poor, both hands for here, then one hand, and then fingertips on both hands and then fingertips on one down to one fingertip, and you're going to do that with each leg. That's just a quick way to progress. That may or may not be necessary. Mike, if you're using the stick, go ahead.

Mike: Again, you can just hold it on one side or the other or both, just put it right directly in front of you. The higher the leg is, the more it's going to make you focus on your balance. It is easier with the foot closer to the ground than it is with it higher up. Make sure to switch and do both sides and try to keep as much of an upright posture as you can, try not to be swaying too much.

Brad: And I think we can segue right into our number three actually. If this is working out easily for you, you're balanced, and you want a bigger challenge, when you're brushing your teeth, see if you can brush your teeth on one foot and that's a really functional way. You're working on something else while you're balancing, that's advanced, so a lot of people may not be able to do that. If you're ready, it's a nice way to work it. You have the countertop, and the sink to lean into if you need to.

Mike: It's a good reminder every time you brush your teeth, work on your balance.

Brad: It makes brushing your teeth fun.

Mike: Do you want to show the last option here?

Brad: Yes, I do. This is something you probably will not see except for by a therapist. This is a functional way to work on your balance. Get into a corner and when you get dressed in the morning, you're putting your pants on, see if you can step in one leg at a time. Yep, step through and if you're in the corner and you lose your balance, you're safe. Have a chair in front of you if needed. If you are to the point where you have a hard time doing this because things get caught, and if you're all caught up and struggling, stop this.

Brad: It's only for certain people and you may start by leaning into the wall, it's probably the best way, and then as you get better, you can try it away from the wall and you know, if you're finding yourself getting your toe caught, your pinky toe is the only thing not in, very frustrating, work on that. It's a nice way to work functional balance. So, again, start leaning into the corner, do it, and progress cautiously. This is something you don't have to do. You can always sit down, and get your pants on, but it is a nice way to progress balance.

Brad: Alright, let's go to number four. Okay, number four, this is interesting, very basic to start out with, but we show some walking options. So get out and walk at least five days a week. Don't go too far, make sure you're on appropriate surfaces, and make sure that you're being safe. We've got an interesting thing for your heart rate, Mike is going to talk about.

Mike: Now, you can try some type of interval training with walking per se. So you can do one block, walk your normal pace, and the next block, walk a little bit quicker pace, getting that heart rate slightly elevated. You'll notice this if you're just breathing a little heavier than the following block, slow down again. You may need to walk slowly for two blocks and fast for one block, depending upon how functional you are and how far you can walk, but just go slowly. Go one block fast, one block slow, take your time, and build into it easily.

Brad: And if you're tech-savvy, you got your cell phone, you can set a timer, maybe walk fast for 30 seconds, then walk slow for a minute. And then you can make it beep. I learned to do that, I feel pretty good about that.

Mike: Oh congratulations. Now, when you come back from your walk, it is also good to work on walking sideways because this strengthens the different muscle groups, helps with turning in small rooms, and all sorts of benefits. So to do this, you're just going to simply step sideways, you can take small steps, to begin with, and you can progress to larger steps. You also want to focus on keeping your feet pointed forward the whole time and make sure to use support as needed. This can be done under a railing, a countertop, or using a cane.

Brad: Right, 5-10 steps in each direction is more than adequate, and I want you to think about lifting your feet up higher, so you've got a few inches of gap between your feet and the floor, just a reminder so you eliminate shuffling habits that can happen with the aging process. Nice work, Mike, have you danced recently?

Mike: No.

Brad: Do you do any polka or any ballroom dancing?

Mike: I do the foxtrot.

Brad: Good. Alright, number five, this is another great big one. Bob and I have been after this for years, it is posture. Get the shoulders back, head up, breathe, and get the shoulders moving so that you can breathe in, and your shoulders become pain-free. If they have a little pain, we like to use the wall. These two exercises, Mike's going to also show in sitting. I think we have the patent on this, don't we, Bob? Okay, butt to the wall, shoulders to the wall, bring the shoulders back, and we're going to do snow angels. You know, if you live in the north where you get snow, you know exactly what we're talking about. If you're lying on the ground and you're making an angel in the snow. So go up with your hands touching as far as you feel comfortable, get the stretch, and come back down. Do five of these, at least, you can work up to 10.

Brad: Now, you might find my left shoulder used to be tight where it would come away from the wall because I couldn't get it back, but after working with these for a few weeks, now, I can get my hands to touch all the way up. But don't worry, if you only get up whatever distance, just get a stretch, do your five to 10, and the option is if you don't want to do them standing, seated is another excellent postural exercise Mike will show.

Mike: I should say, with Brad's exercise, if you don't have wall space and you can easily get on and off the floor, you can also do that on the floor.

Brad: Good point, good point.

Mike: But this is the hallelujah stretch. So you're going to sit upright in a chair, have good posture, and you're just going to bring your arms up like you're saying hallelujah. Hold there for a few seconds and then you can come back down. If this is feeling good, you enjoy the stretch and you maybe want to get a little more back extension with this, you can simply place a deflated ball, possibly a small pillow, or something behind your back, and you can do the same stretch and you get a little more arch in there and oh, that feels so nice.

Brad: Ooh, yes, and may I mention, Mike, you can adjust the ball up or down, whatever feels the best for your back.

Mike: Yes, and this is nice and soft and you can just move it where needed. You don't want a firm ball, you want a nice, squishy one.

Brad: A basketball would not work. You need something soft. Go over and get the neighbor kids’ kickball. Now, what you can also do is, show them that option where if their shoulders are tight, do the W exercise, the Wisconsin W stretch.

Mike: So instead of lifting your arms up, you're simply retracting your shoulders. If my red head is the middle of the W, with my arms this is a W shape. So you can also do it like that. Work on that posture, help prevent all that flex forward posture, you're probably doing most of the day.

Brad: All right, let's go to the last one. Okay, the last one is a really important one, it addresses all those tasks we do throughout the day where you're either pushing something or pulling on it, like opening a door, those types of things. Now, for this, the only way we can do this is if you actually use a band. I hate to have you buy something, but it's the only thing I could come up with to do both of these tasks, and they're not that expensive. Now, what we have is a resistance band, usually you get a set of these with five of them. They'll come with a door anchor that looks like that. Mike's going to demonstrate how it works in a door, go ahead, Mike.

Mike: So you take the round end here, open the door, make sure to fit it in there. Now, this is the important part, you want it closed tight, make sure it's not going to come open. If you have a lock, I suggest locking it. Get in the right position for you, that's going to depend upon how tall or short you are. You roughly want it about chest level.

Mike: So the first one is just some scapular rowing exercise. You just put your arm straight out, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and then come back forward. The focus should be on your shoulder blade region where Brad is pointing out. My biceps are working a little bit to do this, but you want to focus on using your shoulder blades, not your arm muscles when doing this. You can perform 10 repetitions and then we're going to switch and go in the opposite direction, so we're going to work the chest muscles.

Mike: So same concept, just kind of push like you're doing a pushup. So I'll just do 10 repetitions going this way as well and it gets your pec muscles going.

Brad: Good job, Mike. Now, there's one thing, if you don't have the bands, you can get the push part by just using a wall. Simply do wall pushups.

Brad: That does get the muscles for pushing on those pushing tasks throughout the day, as far as pulling. I worked in my head for a long time to figure out how to pull and get some resistance without a band, but I really couldn't. You can use the door. There are wall anchors that actually we have and we sell them because they work really well. If you've used the door anchor for a long time and you're sick and tired of using the door, the wall anchors are very handy, if you buy them on, you get four of the anchors. You need to put them into a wooden stud and they work really well. I've got about 12 of them on my wall. I do, I use them on a regular basis. Again, so you're pulling, the exact same mechanics that Mike talked about. Alright, and this also works the core as well as those arms.

Brad: Alright, now, those six exercises are absolutely essential. We've decided that, and I guarantee you, if you can do all of these, do them three days a week, for four weeks, and then after that, bump it up to four or maybe five days a week. You're going to notice your mobility, your strength, your balance will increase, I guarantee you. How about you, Mike?

Mike: Let us know down below what we've forgotten in the comment section because I'm not in my 50s or 60s, so I may not know.

Brad: Right, but you're going to get there, Mike. I can guarantee you're going to experience the same things that Bob and I, and my brother, have like getting in and out of that canoe.

Mike: Yeah, he has faith in me that I'm going to live that long.

Brad: That’s right.

Bob: That's a wrap.

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