There’s just no way to stay healthy as we age without exercise. It’s the old “move it or lose it” adage. A strong, fit body can spell the difference between living independently as you get older and relying on others for even the most basic tasks.
And that’s why I talk about it so much.
What I don’t get into all that often, though, is the specific kind of exercises you should be doing. In part, that’s because I believe the most important thing is to find an exercise you love (or at least one you can tolerate day after day) and stick with it. And that can be different for everyone.
But recently, an occupational therapist conducted a study to determine what kind of exercise is best for aging adults. Chiung-ju Liu, who is also an associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, designed a workout specifically aimed at helping older people continue to live independently.
The regimen, which she calls “3-Step Workout For Life” focuses on exercises that prepare people to perform “activities of daily living” (ADLs). And the best part is they all happen at home—not at a gym.
The 10-week program starts with resistance exercises, like bicep curls. Then it moves into other exercises that link the resistance movements with ADLs—lifting groceries, for instance. The next and final step is to increase the challenges of each movement.
The study showed that this targeted exercise routine was effective at reducing disability in older adults. Of course, the same was true of the regular resistance-only exercise program Liu and her team pitted it against.
But what made her specially-designed regimen different was that the improvements persisted even 6 months after the study was over. The benefits of the resistance training, on the other hand, diminished over time.
Bottom line: If you want to keep on living independently for as long as possible, make sure you’re exercising. And try to incorporate strength training that will directly impact your ability to do everyday tasks.
To get you started, I’ve listed a few easy-to-do exercises with items already in your home, that will strengthen key parts of your body:
- Bend at the waist to pick up an empty laundry basket, then stand upright holding the basket.
- While holding the laundry basket, bend your elbows and lift the basket upward towards your chest.
- Gently lower the basket back to waist level.
- Bend forward at the waist and slowly lower the basket back to the ground.
- Repeat for 10 repetitions. Aim to eventually complete two sets (one set equals 10 repetitions) in perfect form before adding a challenge.
- For an added challenge, add clothes to the basket to increase weight.
Leg and abdominal strengthening
- Start in sitting position. Stand up, focusing on only using your abdominal core. Use arm assistance as needed.
- Try sitting and standing using couches and chairs of assorted heights.
- Then walk up and down a flight of stairs. Aim to complete this entire exercise twice.
- For an added challenge, carry light dumbbells throughout.
Arm and back strengthening
- When unloading the dishwasher, bend at the waist to pick up dishes.
- Slowly stand fully upright. Twist your body toward your cupboards.
- Lift dishes above your head and lower, three times each, before putting the dish away. Repeat with four more dishes.
- Be sure not to lift heavy pots or pans above your head.
- Added challenge: Aim to unload 10 plates and then eventually an entire load.
“Task-Oriented Exercise to Reduce Activities of Daily Living Disability in Vulnerable Older Adults: A Feasibility Study of the 3-Step Workout for Life.” J Aging Phys Act. 2016 Jul;24(3):384-92.