By JERRY HITCHCOCK
As we enter our golden years, our bodies change, and arguably, not in a good way. No longer are we capable of the raw feats of brute strength we may have performed in our youth. However, older people still require some form of regular exercise to maintain the needed body support and flexibility for a longer life.
Now we need to replace the high-impact workouts we once used to hit our fitness goals. It’s time to get acquainted with low-impact workouts.
Low-impact is just as it sounds. No more bone-jarring, rip-roaring cardio and strength training sessions. Now what’s needed are exercises that can aid you in carrying out the daily tasks you’d like to do, plus keep you healthy enough to stay out of the doctor’s office.
Low-impact exercises not only reduce the stress the body feels during exercise, they lack the intensity and high heart rates of more intense forms.
Some of the best low-impact exercises involve focusing on one area of the body. Single-leg stands can help with your balance and strength. To do this, set yourself up next to a wall or a sturdy chair or table, and lift one leg off the ground. Next, bend the leg you’re standing on as much as you can tolerate, making sure you are supported by your arm holding the wall, chair or table. This will probably only be a slight bend in the knee — then hold for 15 seconds, rest and then switch legs. Performed correctly, this exercise gives you some upper-body work as well.
After a while of doing this exercise, you can increase the bend in your leg and the length of the stretch to 30 seconds per repetition. Do as many reps as you are comfortable with.
Another great exercise is the seated hamstring stretch. This one involves sitting on a chair, and with one foot on the ground, extend the other leg straight out with your foot flexed (not pointed). Hold this position for 30 seconds, you’ll feel it in your hamstring. Then lower your leg and repeat with the other. This exercise works most of the muscles in your hips, legs and feet.
Many arm and torso exercises work well as low-impact workouts as well. The use of small hand weights (2-5 pounds) can increase the tone of your muscles, once you are capable of performing the exercises. Leg weights will likely improve you muscle structure below your waist.
The simple task of walking with leg and hand weights can provide a great, low-impact workout. Before you get too carried away with the weights, make sure you are comfortable with walking the distances you plan on doing with weights. You may have to cut short your walks for a while, if soreness occurs.
Another great exercise is the simple task of stretching. Hurdler stretches and toe-touches will preserve your flexibility, and arm stretches and torso twists will shore up those areas as well.
Along the same line, yoga provides a harder workout than it appears. While there are some positions that can be adapted to allow for less strong and flexible people to accomplish, many are just too difficult to hold for the duration that proves effective. That being said, the child’s pose (knees and lower legs on floor, body forward and arms out in front on the floor) can be used with other poses for a low-impact benefit.
Push-up planks (push up position, holding body off floor with bent elbows) and cobra pose (body on floor, pushing up with arms to bring torso up and straighten arms), and downward-facing dog (hands and feet on floor, torso straight with arms, legs straight) can be accomplished from the child’s pose position.
A workout just involving these yoga poses will help with mild flexibility and muscle tone.
In many instances, those good ol’ calisthenics (push ups, pull ups, sit up, jumping jacks, etc.) work well for those that can handle a little more stress on their joints.
There are many more low-impact exercises in existence, but these should get you on the path to better health. Like anything else, a 10 percent increase per week in activity will help you avoid any severe amounts of muscle soreness.
As always, check with your doctor before starting any new program. He may be able to suggest something else more appropriate for any pre-existing conditions.