How are those New Year's resolutions going? Most of us say "getting fit" is one of our goals for 2015. Well I have good news for those of you over 65 who feel guilty about choosing to take the elevator instead of the stairs. For most seniors, the elevator actually might be the healthier choice.
Don't get me wrong -- getting daily exercise is an important goal, especially as we get older, but it is important we choose the right kind of exercise. Daily cardio keep our hearts healthy, weight bearing exercises can build bone density, and stability/core exercises help maintain strong balance. However, contrary to popular belief, there are some commonly done exercises that if you are over 65, just might do more harm than good.
Here's the five to avoid:
1. Standing toe touches: We see this stretching exercise everywhere and is often used to measure flexibility. Joggers do it in the park before their run and practically every gym-goer does a series of these in front of a mirror. The problem with reaching for 'this little piggy' is two-fold. Stretching and holding that position without a good warm-up can cause serious injury and actually decrease physical performance. Reaching for your toes also results in an unhealthy curvature in your spine resulting in blood pressure and neck problems. Especially as we get older, a joint connecting our hip and lower back begin to weaken and become more susceptible to fractures and injury. That certainly would make any piggy go 'wee-wee-wee' to any doctor's office.
2. Abdominal crunches: Everyone seems to think they need to do "crunches." And if you stay up late at night, I'm sure you've seen a zillion infomercials selling devices that can make crunches easier. I suggest you stop doing crunches altogether. Along with sit-ups, crunches cause curvature of the spine and can increase the risk of spinal fractures. As we age, we should minimize the bending of our backs in this motion. Instead of crunches and toe-touches, you can strengthen the same core muscles by performing lying leg lifts and planks.
3. Behind-the-neck lateral pull-downs: Any exercises straining your head and neck forward should be avoided as we get older. Behind-the-neck movements press the neck forward and compress an important artery in the neck. This motion can lead to headaches, dizziness and fainting, and in severe cases, fractures in the neck.
4. Climbing stairs: I'm sure you've been told to take the stairs instead of the elevator. This is good when we are middle age, but not once we reach Medicare eligibility. Why? We can lose up to 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass as we age. As this happens, the balance and kinetics behind our stair-climbing abilities change. Stairs actually attribute to more than 51 percent of falls in those older than 65 years, and account for over 20,000 deaths per year! Elevators, however, result in only about 27 deaths per year. Science and statistics show it might be healthier to just take the elevator.
5. Trunk twists: Just in case you haven't obtained your washboard abs from straining your neck and back doing crunches and sit-ups, here is another exercise to avoid. Trunk twists! You probably remember these from gym class. This exercise rotates the upper body from side to side and focus on the dreaded "love handles." Unfortunately, extending this range of motion too far can result in strained backs. While it is important to maintain good trunk rotation, these types of exercises should be performed while lying down rather than sitting or standing.
As we get older, our bodies continually change. We need to be aware of these changes, and adopt our exercise program to avoid injury. Avoiding these select exercises (but not all exercises!) may help keep you healthier longer.