Avoid deconditioning in older age

Studies show exercising three times a week provides the greatest improvement with the least amount of injury.

Springtime and fitness often go hand in hand.

Warmer weather and longer days provide the perfect motivation to put a little “spring” in our step. However, if you’ve been hibernating all winter, jumping back into a fitness regime can seem daunting.

We have just the thing and her name is Kim Hamilton! She is a fitness instructor with Courtenay Recreation and works with many individuals 55 years and older.

Kim loves watching people benefit from the tools she gives in her classes. Her students often say they have more energy, reduced stress and better sleep! Kim will gently guide us into springtime fitness with some handy tips and exercises.

• • •

Anne always had a good appetite and looked forward to breakfast. The hard part was dressing for the day.

It may not be fair but managing day-to-day life at home requires work!

Deconditioning refers to the breakdown of muscle tissue that occurs as the result of inactivity. Chronic illness, injury, failing eyesight, general aches and pains can cause seniors to become sedentary.

Performing the skills needed to maintain our independence as adults, like bathing, dressing and moving in and out of a chair or bed, can be challenging if we don’t have the strength to perform them.

The less we move, the less we want to move.  Studies show exercising three times a week provides the greatest improvement with the least amount of injury.

Get in touch with your physician to see if this plan is right for you. Proceed slowly, building strength and endurance over time. The key for best results is consistency!

Start with the following three exercises, aiming for 10 repetitions each (this is one set) two or three times per week, taking a day off between sessions. Perform from a seated position, using your best posture and keep the abdominals firm.

When this becomes too easy (you no longer feel out of breath) it’s time to exercise while standing! Adding resistance by holding soup cans, water bottles or hand weights is another way to increase intensity.

Rest for 1 minute after completing the prescribed number of reps. Once you can do this without straining for a week, add another set.

• Arm circles. Strengthens the arms and shoulders. Extend arms at your sides, shoulder level. Circle the arms in a clockwise motion 10 times, and then counter clockwise for 10 repetitions. Think about “drawing a circle” in the air with your fingers.

• Heel pumps/toe taps. Improve ankle and foot strength to help balance and reduce incidence of falling. Feet are under the knees, hip width apart — roll up on toes, quickly lower the heels to the floor, and bring them back up 10 times.

Roll onto the heels, toes reach toward the shins, and push the toes to the floor, (like pressing the gas pedal in your car, but with both feet!) return to start for 10 repetitions.

Marching. Easy on the joints, this helps muscle function in the legs, hips and buttocks and gets the heart rate up a little. Feet are hip width apart, with a bent knee, slowly lift the right leg to hip height, lower and repeat with the left leg.  Gradually increase the pace of lifting each leg 10 times.

The natural course of aging causes a reduction in muscle strength and function. However, regular, appropriate physical activity can slow down, stop or even reverse the effects of deconditioning. It’s never too late!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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