7 Ways to Maintain Mobility & Stay Active as You Age
Let’s face facts – as we age, most of us become increasingly less active. For some people, it’s a lack of energy, while for others, old injuries and wear and tear on our bodies causes pain. Many older adults are sedentary, spending nine to 13 hours a day sitting, according to research. If you are sedentary and would like to get moving again, here are seven tips that can help.
Eat a healthy diet
It may seem surprising to start with food, but proper nutrition is essential for mobility. Your body needs a healthy balanced diet to fuel movement. Here are a few examples:
- Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that help lower inflammation which can cause swelling and musculoskeletal aches and pains. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring; and nuts and seeds such as walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
- Magnesium and calcium help maintain bone density and support joint and muscle integrity. Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale and collard greens) are good sources of both nutrients. You’ll find magnesium in many nuts and seeds (pumpkin, chia, almonds, cashews and peanuts) and calcium in dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Vitamins K and D also help sustain bone density and can help prevent fractures. Good sources of K are berries (blueberries and blackberries), green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale and collard greens), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and Brussels sprouts), avocado and tuna. Only a few foods can boast having vitamin D – cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, beef liver and egg yolks. This is why many Americans take a vitamin D supplement.
Strong bones aren’t all about what you should add to your diet. It’s also what you should limit. Overly processed, salty, fried and sugary foods can inhibit calcium absorption. Consult with your primary care physician before making about your diet or taking supplements, especially if you’re on prescription medications.
Choose activities wisely
The key to maintaining mobility is to keep moving. But that doesn’t mean doing jumping jacks or running a mile. Small, daily steps (literally and figuratively) to stay active can have big results when it comes to prolonging your ability to stay mobile.
To get moving, it’s important to work within your personal capabilities. For example, if you have bad knees or have had a hip replacement, your goal shouldn’t be hiking up hills or cycling centuries. Instead, try one of the following:
- Water aerobics class for seniors is a safe way to get cardio and strength training benefits without causing pressure and pain in your joints.
- Dance is a great idea especially if you love to dance. Put on your favorite oldies and move to the music – even slow swaying around the room is a great start.
- Chair yoga is a low impact way to move.
- Yoga strengthens our core muscles, and its meditative and calming effects are an added benefit.
- Housework is probably not one of your favorite activities, but dusting, vacuuming and generally tidying up provide important mobility benefits.
- Gardening is also an appealing activity that doesn’t have to be too strenuous.
The key is to pursue daily movement that you enjoy at the level you can achieve without injury. If you love what you do when you’re moving, you’re more likely to do it often.
Stretch to warm up
To get ready to move, it’s important to warm up. Warmups raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to muscles, which help prevent injuries. Some safe warmup activities include arm circles, arms swings and heel-to-toe walks.
Keep in mind, stretching is not a warmup. Stretching cold muscles can lead to injury. Once you’ve warmed up, can do some simple stretches; however, many people opt to stretch at the end of their workouts.
If you’re having a hard time with balance, seated stretches are an option. Remember to include neck stretches in your routine, as tight neck muscles can affect your posture and balance whether standing or moving around.
Take a walk
It’s OK, and preferable, to take baby steps when starting a walking program. After getting clearance from your doctor, you might begin by spending 10 minutes each morning and evening walking in place and slowly working up to walking around the inside of your home.
Next, you might walk back and forth in your driveway before eventually taking a slow stroll to the end of your street.
After that, you can begin picking up the pace a little, swinging your arms and, if you can, lengthening your stride. Each week or so, set your sights a little further and increase your distance or the time you spend taking a walk.
If you use a cane or a walker, don’t see them as an impediment – consider them your friend not your enemy. They can help keep you safe while allowing you some freedom to move. And if you need assistance to stay safe while getting exercise, lean on a friend. Having a walking buddy can also help motivate you to get out and move.
Do low-impact cardio
Having a healthy cardiovascular system is important for overall wellbeing. As you work to maintain and improve your mobility, be sure to work in some low-impact cardio activities. Your local senior center likely offers group exercise classes such as a yoga flow, low-impact cardio classes or Zumba for seniors. You also can check out community aquatics centers for water aerobics that often cater to seniors with knee, hip and general joint issues.
Keep your coordination and balance
We’re more prone to falls during our senior years as coordination and balance starts deteriorating. That’s why it’s important to incorporate exercises that focus on these components of fitness so that don’t cause an injury and stop moving.
Improving balance and coordination requires slow, mindful, intentional movements. This is why Tai Chi has become a popular pursuit of seniors. This ancient practice involves slow movements focused on shifting your body weight to condition balance capabilities and reflexes.
Not a fan of Tai Chi? Another option is yoga. And you can practice yoga on a mat or chair.
Improve your posture
Correct posture plays an important role in maintaining balance and mobility. Unfortunately, poor posture is prevalent in elderly adults, impeding their ability to move naturally and freely. Proper posture involves a neutral pelvis, which enables the spine to align correctly. A correctly aligned spine improves blood flow, maintains proper nervous system function and eases stress from muscles, ligaments and tendons, preventing pain and movement restriction.
Consider that studies show that when your spine correctly aligned, your head weighs an average 10 pounds. But every inch you tilt forward doubles the weight strain of your head. No, you don’t have to be Victorian and walk around balancing books on your head to keep your posture perfectly poised. But when you catch yourself slouching or walking hunched over, make a point of lifting your gaze and chin up and pulling back your shoulder blades to naturally pull back your head into a neutral spine position.
Better yet, don’t wait until you notice. Spend time each day working your shoulders back and forth in small but intentional movements and turning your head side to side to strengthen your neck muscles to help improve your posture. If you need help, talk to your primary care physician. They may refer you to a physical therapist or chiropractor.