Maintaining strength in your limbs is a sure way to keep your movement and balance strong, and to help prevent falls. It also promotes independence – if you are strong enough to carry your own bags, do your own garden work and general home maintenance, you are less likely to have to rely on others for help.
Some of the largest muscles in your body are in your legs, the quads and hamstrings, assisted by your gluteal muscles. Large muscles use a large amount of energy, so by maintaining lean muscle mass, you are also keeping your metabolism working efficiently.
Lean muscle does not mean bulk, so for those who are nervous about the concept of strengthening their arms and legs, you needn’t worry about gaining size, particularly women.
To build and maintain strength, you don’t need to do complicated exercises or necessarily even leave your home. Try the following, and listen to your own body – to create change, you need to do something new, but never work past discomfort to the point of pain.
Check with your doctor or physiotherapist before starting any new exercise programme and make sure:
- You’re not hungry or thirsty – and sip water before, during and after exercise.
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.
- Pay attention to good form while exercising – you are better to do fewer repetitions, but do them well, than focus on numbers.
Lower limb exercises
Calves – stand on a step (and balance yourself with a door frame or rail). only stand on the balls of your feet – your heels and arches can hang off the step. Turn your toes in slightly (pigeon-toed). Now slowly raise yourself up onto tiptoes for a slow count of five and down until you can feel a stretch at the back of your legs.
Repeat 10 times slowly, then speed up for 10 times and repeat both sets twice.
Quads/Hamstrings – a strong squat is important at any age, but particularly once you get older – it is this movement that makes getting out of a chair easier. You may like to practice this exercise with a dining chair. Stand facing away from the chair with your feet hip-width apart and toes facing straight forward. Brace your belly and sit backwards slowly, until you feel your bottom just make contact with the chair, then stand up again slowly. Repeat as slowly as you can 10 times, and then speed up 10 times. Repeat each set twice.
Chest/arms – pushups are a wonderful exercise for the entire upper body. Start on your knees, keep your back flat and head in line with your neck. Place your hands shoulder width apart, directly beneath your shoulders. Bend your arms and move your chest towards the floor. Try and complete five very slow repetitions, then five fast, as many times as you are able. If you feel any pain in your lower back, stop. Once you are more confident, try on your toes (ladies, that’s you too!)
Triceps (back of the arm) – Place your hands on a steady chair, with your fingers hanging over the seat beside your thighs. Then take your bottom off the seat and bend your elbows slowly, aiming to keep them facing behind you (rather than out like a chicken wing!). Keep your feet flat on the floor and your bottom close to the seat. Repeat five times slowly and five times more quickly, for as many sets as you can.
Practice these four exercises four days a week – you’ll be amazed at how quickly you see improvements!