"As you age, your balance decreases rapidly, which is why you need to introduce regular exercise to restore it," explains Jessica Slonski, a pilates instructor and owner of Form Body Lab in Vancouver.
She notes resistance training is of particular importance for building healthy, strong bones to fight osteoporosis, but that doesn't have to mean pumping iron at the gym.
"Opt for exercises that are low-impact but highly effective in building strength. Growing older means that you probably can’t work out the way you used to in your 20s, so think quality over quantity," advises Slonski. "Above all, listen to your body. If it feels painful or the intensity is too much, stop. It’s not worth the injury."
Slonski has put together seven exercises for seniors (or really, anyone) to increase balance and strength. She suggests five to 10 reps of each, depending on your fitness level.
Cat & Cobra
• Start on your hands and knees. Keep hands under shoulders and knees under hips annd your spine in neutral. • Inhale to prepare, then exhale to curl your tailbone towards the floor. Pull your belly button to the sky, separate your shoulder blades wide across your ribs (be sure to keep away from ears). • Inhale bring your spine back to neutral. • Exhale. Start to extend your spine into the longest ‘arch’ position possible. Tip: don’t drop your belly to floor. This is more about lengthening the spine than arching it. Squeeze your abs the entire time to support your spine.
• Start in a neutral spine, lying on your back with your hands behind your head. • Inhale and gently lengthen the back of you neck using your hands for help. Tip: do not pull too hard, this should feel nice and never hurt. Your chin will come closer to your chest. • Engage your pelvic floor, then your transverse (TA) and start to peel your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor. Tip: to engage your pelvic floor, imagine you have a ball sitting in your pelvis – squeeze it from all angles. To engage your TA properly, imaging you’re hugging your organs from all angles. Your belly button should never ‘pop’ up to the sky – pull your abs flat and wide. • Hold for five breaths (or until your abs give out / pop up to the sky).
• Lie on your back in a neutral spine and keep hands by side. • Engage your pelvic floor and TA • Without moving any of your pelvic bones, exhale to lift one leg up into a tabletop position. • Tip: Don’t let your bellybutton pop out or your ribs lift away from the floor (lowest rib should press gently into the mat). • Inhale hold – watch for abdominal popping • Exhale. Control your abs and pelvis as you lower the toes to the floor (hinging at hip). • Repeat 10 times and do other side. • If this feels easy, do both legs at the same time.
Bridging With Optional Leg Lift
• Start by lying on your back with a neutral spine. • Exhale. Start to curl your tailbone up to the sky. Press all your vertebrae onto the mat before peeling each one up off the mat into a bridge position (work from the bottom to the top). • Tip: Hug your centerline with your legs and press your big toes into the mat. Keep your ribs connected to your hips (no rib popping). Squeeze your abs to protect your lower back. • Hold for six breaths. Then roll down. • Optional: In the bridge exhale and reach one leg straight (thighs still parallel to one another). • Inhale. Reach leg up so toes point to sky. • Exhale. Flex your foot and reach back to parallel. • Repeat three to five times, then roll down and repeat on next side.
Spine Twist & Glute Stretch
Spine Twist • Take arms out to sides, feet and knees together – feet on floor and knees bent. • Use abs to control – let legs rotate over to one side – head looks the opposite way (spine twist)
Glute Stretch • Lying in the centre on your back cross your left foot over right knee • Thread your left arm through your legs and hold onto the right thigh to gently increase the stretch. • Hold for 30 seconds. • Do other side.
Flight & Swimming
Flight: • Start lying on your tummy, legs just wider than hip width and slightly turned out. Hands near shoulders and forearms on mat. • Inhale. Lift your belly away from floor (hold for entire exercise) • Exhale. Sink your chest into the ground, lengthen your neck, imagining there is a marble in front of your nose and roll it off the mat with your nose (there should be no wrinkles in the back of the neck, so not too far). • Open the collarbones wide and show the bottom of your collarbone to the top of your mat. • The goal is to extend your thoracic spine (reverse of ‘computer posture’) • Inhale to expand • Exhale to sequence down. • Repeat 5 times.
Swimming: • Start exactly as above, except with arms in a wide ‘V’ above your head. • Once you’re in your extended Flight position, exhale to reach the legs so far behind you they come up off the ground. • Inhale. Hold. • Exhale. Slide your shoulder blades so far down your spine your hands come up off the floor. • Inhale. Reach your right arm and left leg a little higher (shoulders down!) • Exhale reverse. • Repeat 10 times. • Exhale to sequence back down to start position. • Tip: Lower back should NOT hurt. If it does, you have forgotten to contract your abs!
Open Leg Rocker
• Start with your feet parallel in a wide stance • Hinge from the hips forward and make sure to engage your pelvic floor & TA. Your spine should remain neutral the entire time. Bend your knees into a half squat. • Keep your nose, breastbone and pubic bone in one straight line the entire time. • Inhale shift your weight to the right leg. Toes can touch ground for balance. • Exhale. Start to extend the right leg (balancing on one leg). Keep your pelvis neutral and square. Left leg reaches long and flex your foot to reach through your heel. • Inhale to bend right knee. • Exhale come back to centre. • Repeat other side.
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