There's no better way to maintain your strength and energy as you age than by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise.
Staying active is a vital component to how well and comfortably we age. No one wants to be stuck at home sitting on the couch. This is the time to travel, experience new adventures and spend quality time with family and loved ones.
During my years as a pilates studio owner, I had the pleasure of meeting people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s who were incredibly fit. It was as if they had discovered the secret to eternal youth. Not only did they look fantastic, but they kept their hearts and bones healthy and strong. And what they all had in common was their unwavering focus when it came to regular workouts.
So if you're 60 or older, here are my top exercises that will keep you feeling your best:
Let's start with the importance of engaging in some type of cardiovascular activity daily or, at the very least, several times a week. Your best bet is walking. Aim to keep a steady pace and try to incorporate some small hills if possible. The key is to set the pace, so that you feel slightly winded without being out of breath. If you don't enjoy walking, then there are any number of other activities to try, including hiking, running, cycling, rowing, swimming or aquatic aerobics.
Legs, hips and glutes
Squats are a great exercise to strengthen and increase flexibility in your knees, calves and glutes. Start with your feet hip distance apart, toes pointing forward. Let your body lean slightly forward and engage your abdominals as you bend your knees as though you're sitting down. Hold for about five seconds, and then rise back up to your start position. Repeat eight to 10 times. Hold on to something sturdy, such as a table or wall, if you find it difficult to balance.
As you age, it's important to incorporate functional training into your workouts, because everyday activities, such as stepping up on a curb, can cause an injury. Any exercise that mimics everyday movements is a great idea. Standing in front of a step (or your stairs), step up with your right foot. Bring your left foot up and then step down with your right foot. Repeat this sequence starting with the left foot. Repeat the entire set 15 times.
This is another exercise that will help strengthen several muscle groups at once. You should feel a burn in your legs, especially in your hamstrings and glutes, but you will also be working your abdominals, as they engage to provide stability. Start by lying on your back, arms by your sides, palms facing down. Your knees are bent with feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart. Inhale, press your feet into the floor and lift your glutes straight up off the floor as high as you can without arching your back. Hold for about five seconds, and then lower back down to the floor. Repeat 12 times. As you get stronger, or if this is too easy, you can also do the same exercise with both arms reaching up to the ceiling. Another modification is to lift one leg up a few inches off the floor.
Think of lunges as an exaggerated walk. They will help with stability on uneven surfaces, as well as strengthening your feet, legs, glutes and abdominals, which again act as stabilizers. Standing tall with your feet hip distance apart and toes pointing forward, take a big step forward while letting your back knee bend toward the floor without touching it. Use your front leg to push yourself back up to your start position. If you need a little help, simply place one hand on the wall. Repeat 12 times on each leg.
This is a great exercise that will strengthen your deep core muscles, as well as your hip flexors. Don't be fooled by its simplicity as these are a killer. Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart. Without letting your body shift, engage your abdominals and exhale while bringing your right leg up into a table top position (90 degree angle). Take a breath and bring your left leg up to meet it. Hold for about five seconds, and then slowly place your right leg back down, followed by your left. Repeat, switching up the starting leg each time. Complete the whole sequence 10 times.
As you get stronger, you can add toe dips with alternating legs or both legs at the same time. Begin the exercise the same way, but maintain a constant arch with your leg as you dip it down to the floor, but only as far as it will go before your back starts to arch. Note that this may be only a few centimetres and that's OK.
Curls or crunches with a twist:
Our everyday movements are three dimensional and our exercises should reflect that, so we will be adding a twist to these crunches. Start by lying on your back with knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, and toes pointing forward. Place your hands behind your head or in front of your forehead, elbows pointing out to the sides. Take a breath and exhale as you curl your torso up off the floor without engaging your glutes or legs (hint, gently press your tailbone into the floor). Inhale at the top and rotate your chest toward your left leg. Return back to centre and lower your body. Repeat on the other side. Repeat the entire sequence 15 times.
Back and abdominals
Years of sitting in front of computers or over paperwork, bad posture and life in general can cause our head to jut forward, which pulls our spine out of alignment. Back extensions are the perfect exercise to counter this effect. Start by lying on the floor, face down with your hands beneath your forehead, elbows out to the sides. Inhale and on your exhale lift your upper body off the floor. Feel your belly gently pulling away from the floor toward your spine. Hold for about 5 seconds, and then lower. Repeat 12 times. You can also leave your hands on the floor by your shoulders (similar to a cobra position in yoga). Or, if you are uncomfortable lying on your stomach, simply sit tall on a hard chair and lift your chest up to the ceiling Note that in this position, this movement is more of a stretch than an exercise, but it will release tightness in your upper back.
Arms and shoulders
Note: You will need a resistance band, some light weights (depending on your fitness levels, two to eight pounds should be adequate) or even a water bottle to do these exercises.
Start either seated or standing tall with your palms facing forward. Take a breath and as you exhale, curl your palm up toward your shoulder. Inhale and exhale to lower your arm back to your start position. Repeat with your other arm. Repeat 12 times each arm.
As we get older, many injuries happen when we are performing simple moves we've done thousands of times before. The overhead press will help to strengthen your shoulders, upper back and arms. Standing or sitting tall, bend your elbow so that your hand is by your shoulder, palm facing forward. Engage your abdominals and press your arm up overhead. You can do this with both arms at the same time or one at a time. Complete the set 12 times.
Yes, you read that right. Pushups are a great total body workout. You'll be using your back and abs as stabilizers and your arms and chest as primary muscles. There are many ways to do pushups and you'll need to pick the best one for your fitness level. If you can complete a full pushup, that's great. If not, no problem; you can try them on your knees or even up against the wall. If you are doing them against the wall, then simply take a few steps away from a wall or even the back of your couch and place your hands on it, so that they are in line with your shoulders. Keep your feet together, gently squeezing your inner thighs and glutes. Simply bend your elbows and straighten them. Whichever way you do your pushups, remember to keep your body straight without arching or rounding your back. Repeat 10 times.
- Make sure that you are breathing through every exercise and exhaling on exertion. This may sound obvious, but it's actually really easy to hold your breath, which will just make every move more difficult.
- Focus on relaxing your neck and shoulders, especially when doing arm exercises. This is where we hold tension and you don't want your muscles seizing up.
- Before starting each exercise, take the time to correct your posture to make each move more effective and easier to perform.
- Take at least 10 minutes to warm up and get your blood flowing before working out. Don’t forget to cool down and do some light stretching after your workout.
- Drink plenty of water when you exercise to stay hydrated.
- Remember that no matter your age, a regular exercise routine will help alleviate joint pain, decrease your risk of diabetes (or help control it), strengthen your bones, bring down your blood pressure and most importantly, make you feel great!