Carlucci’s older students were having some movement issues; their old ways of doing things no longer worked. They needed to learn new sequences for everyday challenges like getting up off of the ground after playing with their grandkids or picking up something that had fallen on the floor and putting it on a high shelf. Some had trouble with arthritis in their shoulders or knees.
Crunch: It presents the same problem as the leg press. You flatten your lower back against the floor as you raise your head and shoulders and feel the squeeze in your abdominal muscles, then go back into an arch when you lower yourself. Although you aren’t using much weight when you do it—just a fraction of your body’s weight—you typically do lots of repetitions.
To stretch your quadriceps, start by standing behind a chair and grabbing it with your right hand. Bend your left leg behind you and grab your foot with your left hand, making sure to keep the thigh as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds or long enough that you feel the stretch in front of the bent thigh. Release the foot and repeat on the other side. The National Institute on Aging Web site features other great stretches for the lower body, including the hamstring and calf muscles.
The good news is that muscle mass can increase at any age in response to exercise. In an important study of weight lifting and older adults conducted with 100 male and female residents of a nursing home in Boston (age range: 72 to 98 years of age; average age 87), subjects lifted weights with their legs three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, there was an increase in thigh mass of 2.7%, walking speed increased 12%, and leg strength increased a whopping 113%! In a similar study of adults 65-79 years old, subjects who lifted weights three times a week for three months increased their walking endurance by 38% (from 25 minutes to 34 minutes) without appreciable increases in mass. Ida Weiss, a 91-year-old participant in the Boston study, had the following to say after the study, "It's very beneficial for me. Things that I couldn't do when I came here, I can do now. I didn't think that I was going to live anymore, but I feel different now."
Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, dancing, biking, swimming, etc.): To promote and maintain health, older adults need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days each week or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days each week. (Moderate intensity is when you feel "warm and slightly out of breath," and vigorous is when you feel "out of breath and sweaty.")
You guessed it. It decreases. The good news is that some studies, but not all, show improvements in flexibility when individuals engage in exercise programs that involve stretching exercises. Unfortunately, the studies on flexibility in the aging population aren't as complete as they are for studies of strength and endurance, but the studies do suggest that significant improvements in the range of motion of various joints (neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle) can occur when stretching exercises are prescribed. It's just that it isn't clear how much flexibility training older adults should do to maintain good range of motion and joint function.
Building muscle mass and focusing on better balance can help reduce the risk of falls and broken bones. A good balance exercise for older adults is the chair stand: Start in a seated position in an armless chair. Keeping your back and shoulders straight, extend your arms parallel to the ground and slowly stand up, without using your hands. Sit down and repeat the move 10 to 15 times, rest, and then complete another set of 10 to 15 reps. You can further improve your balance with the toe stand: Stand behind the chair — use it only for support — and slowly raise up on your tiptoes. After holding the position for a moment, slowly lower your heels back to the floor; repeat two sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Many of life's limitations we place on ourselves, and we can lift those limitations at any time. If you have any doubt about this, take a look at Willie Murphy, the powerlifting granny who at 77 years old can deadlift 215 pounds. Best of all, she can lift her grandchildren, shovel her own snow, and carry her own groceries with ease — and that's what it's really all about. Strength gives you the freedom to keep living life the way you want to live it, without physical limitations. As Willie says, "It's about life. L-I-F-E!"