By: Lawrence Biscontini, M.A.
For years, we were told that as we age, we should limit our standing movements and avoid performing certain exercises. New research has changed that belief. Health and fitness experts now emphasize a functional approach to overall enhancement of daily life activities in order to promote self-efficacy (Howell). Active aging expert Bernadette O’Brien, an ACE Group Exercise Leadership Specialist and new member of BOSU® Development, defines self-efficacy as “being able to do all of the tasks you need to do, and want to do, independently.”
A “one-size-fits-all” approach to exercise does not exist for the growing number of older adults. Keep in mind that the movements highlighted below, like all movements, are made for people, but not all people are made for all versions of all movements. It is important to note that following moves will prove most beneficial to active agers, not the physically frail, which is another group of older adults who need to remain seated and abide by an entirely different exercise protocol.
The 3 Components of Aging Movements
Research states that movement patterns for active agers should vary in every program among the following: cardiovascular, strength and endurance, and balance and flexibility (Ackermann).
Cardiovascular: Gait Training
Cardiovascular moves that emphasize specific, multi-planar patterns should provide task-dependent moves with a purpose, such as marching in place, and forward and back (sagittal plane) first, adding side-to-side movements (frontal plane) second, and rotational movements (transverse plane) third (Kubzansky).
Try: Infinity Walk
Begin by marching in place to warm up, then practicing a few step-touches side-to-side. For this movement pattern, walk in a circle to the right, then to the left with space between the heels and toes, looking down as needed and extending arms out to the sides as if walking on a tightrope. The circle should cover about 6 feet in diameter in each direction. Ultimately, this entire pattern resembles at figure 8, or infinity pattern, on the floor. As you become more comfortable, you can try the following progressions:
- Walk with hands at the hips as if your hands were in your front pockets
- Walk in line, with space between feet
- Walk with no space between the feet (heel-to-toe)
- Increase speed as appropriate
- Repeat options A-D walking backwards, as appropriate
Seeing is Believing
Since macular degeneration often occurs as we age, exercises that promote visual acuity, visual dependence on balance and even eye training can prove useful (Beattie, Rose). To start, try practicing all of the cardiovascular, gait-enhancing exercises mentioned above with sunglasses on to train the body to depend less on sight and more on proprioceptive feeling and muscular recruitment and synergy.
Try: Seated Visual and Vestibular Tracking
Stand in front of the BOSU® Balance Trainer and gradually lower to a seated position. For a greater challenge, sit off of the center point to better engage the muscles of the core. Begin with your arms out in front of your chest and take one arm at a time to the side and back, following the movement with the eyes only (without moving the neck). As you feel comfortable, try the following progressions:
- Hold a soft medicine ball, gradually transferring the ball to the moving hand
- Balance a 1-pound bag of lentils on your head to encourage neck stabilization
- Follow the ball and your moving hand with the eyes and neck to train the vestibular system, keeping the bag of lentils on your head
Strength & Endurance
Resistance training for key body parts such as muscles of the core and legs is of the utmost importance for this demographic. When standing balance is removed from the equation and exercises are performed on the floor to work the leg and core system, this becomes possible instantly (Tsang).
Try: Supine Adducted Bridging
The BOSU® Balance Trainer not only provides comfort for exercises performed on the back, but it also allows the head and heart to remain relatively on the same level, making this exercise more accessible and comfortable for more people. To begin, lie on your back with your head on the BOSU® logo, and feet comfortably hip-width distance apart on the floor. Place a soft medicine ball between the knees and squeeze it gently to keep it in place. Draw the pelvis and hip bones toward the ceiling and lower down to the floor, completing a total of three sets of eight repetitions. For an added challenge, try the following progressions:
- For the first set, draw the toes toward the shins (ankle dorsiflexion)
- For the second set, point the toes away from the shins (ankle plantarflexion)
- For the third set, for each repetition allow one ankle to dorsiflex and one foot to plantarflex, alternating for each repetition
- Try single-leg bridging, with or without the medicine ball between the knees, to strengthen the leg, hip and core muscles.
Balance and Flexibility
Both balance and flexibility prove important for active agers; a combination, additionally, during training helps self-efficacy and aids in boosting overall functionality of movement (Bernier). Balance and connective tissue range of motion oftentimes are mutually dependent to prevent injury, such as when reaching for a grandchild or getting out of a chair, for example, so training these concepts simultaneously proves functional.
Try: Pedaling Backstroke Chest and Shoulder Dynamic Flexibility
Stand with your feet together to challenge balance from the start. Using your non-dominant arm to perform cone-like movements of the shoulder, extend your arm moving it forward, up, and then around toward the back. During the movement, plantarflex the ankle on the opposite side. Repeat with the other arm. Repeat the movement with both arms moving together to encourage an opening of the entire chest. As you feel comfortable, try the following progressions:
- Follow the moving hand with the eyes and head
- Perform the sequence wearing sunglasses
- Add dorsiflexion of the same-side ankle as the moving shoulder while maintaining the plantarflexion of the opposite ankle
Much has evolved in the research arena of training active agers. While some of the preceding exercises will prove too progressive for the frail, they may also form mere elements of a warm-up for the highly fit, over 50 individual. Following a training regime that incorporates attention to, and balance among, cardiovascular, strength and flexibility movement patterns will help create self-efficacy allowing you to lead a happier, healthier, fitter life.
Ackermann, R.T., Cheadle, A., Sandhu, N., Madsen, L., Wagner, E.H., & LoGerfo, J.P. (2003). Community Exercise Program Use and Changes in Healthcare Costs for Older Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 25(3), 232-237.
Beattie, B.L., Whitelaw., N., Mettler, M. & Turner, D. (2003). A Vision for Older Adults and Health Promotion. American Journal of Health Promotion, November/December 18(2), 200 - 204.
Bernier, J.N. D. Perrin (1998). “Effect of coordination training on proprioception of functionally unstable ankles.” The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 27 (4), April, 264-274. Extract: “Results suggest that balance and coordination training can improve some measures of postural sway.”
Howell, R.T., Kern, M.L., & Lyubomirsky, S. 2007. Health benefits: Meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health outcomes. Health Psychology Review, 1 (1), 83-136.
Kubzansky, L.D., & Thurston, R.C. 2007. Emotional vitality and incident coronary heart disease: Benefits of healthy psychological functioning. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64 (12), 1393-1401.
Rose, D. (2003). Fall Proof. A Comprehensive Balance and Mobility Training Program. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL.
Tsang WWN and Hui-Chan CWY (2003), Effects of Tai Chi on Joint Proprioception and Stability Limits in Elderly Subjects, Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 35(12): 1962-1971.
Lawrence Biscontini, M.A.
Lawrence Biscontini, M.A., creates award-winning group fitness and personal training programming at an international level for clubs and spas, including Equinox, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold's Gym International, Bally and Golden Door Spas. As Nutritional Counselor, Biscontini has created complete nutritional menus for spas from Manhattan to Mykonos. He regularly contributes to fitness industry publications, such as AFAA's American Fitness Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal and Spa Asia. His books include, Cream Rises: Excellence in Private & Group Education, and he dedicates a percentage of his website sales to charity, as well as to inspire career wellness development. As a movement specialist, Biscontini trains celebrity clients, including cast members of ABC TV's soap opera "General Hospital," and has made appearances on CNN Headline News and LIVE! With Regis and Kelly.