One of the joys of getting older is that exercise gets easier. When we’re young, we may need to do vigorous activities to see a difference. But as we get older, even gentle, low-impact exercises can have an immediate impact on our well-being. Simply bringing your awareness to the way you move can transform a humdrum activity like standing or walking into a beneficial exercise. Here are six low-impact moves to energize any senior’s day— improving flexibility and strength.
No need to jump around like a millennial in yoga class. The most important yoga posture involves standing perfectly still! Rest with feet hip width apart. Let your arms hang relaxed, shoulders back. Lift your toes, then drop them. Ground your weight on the balls of your feet, then on the heels, finding the perfect point of balance. Bring your bones and muscles into a natural alignment. Then stand poised and firm. Mountain pose sounds simple, but you’ll feel energized and alert after just two minutes. Don’t forget to breathe easily the whole time.
Walking is great exercise, but for seniors, it can be stressful. Here’s a new way of walking that may surprise you. The secret is “weight shifting.” First, set your intention to walk to a certain goal, perhaps the end of a hall or driveway. Stand with your feet on the ground and allow all your weight to descend into the right foot. Keep your left foot on the ground, but let it become as light as air. When your right foot feels like it’s rooted in the ground and your left foot is as light as air, let your left foot float half a step until it rests on the ground, and let all your weight shift into the left foot. When the left foot carries all the weight and the right foot is completely light, let the right foot float forward. Continue moving like this until you’ve reached your goal. At first, you’ll go slowly. But soon you may find you’re zooming along with new vigor and speed—even passing younger people along the way.
Familiar objects around the house can be great props. In the bathroom, for example, the sink is a helpful support for gentle squats. Place both hands flat on the surface of the sink (and make sure it’s dry!). Stand with feet hip width apart. Keeping your hands flat on the sink, allow your knees to bend and your bottom to sink, as if you’re sitting down into a chair. Only go as deep as you are comfortable! When you feel the stretch in your thighs, press down on the sink with your hands to lift yourself back up. Even three repetitions is a great way to strengthen your legs.
Move to the Music
As we get older, we sometimes forget to use our bodies. Not only that, we forget to connect to our feelings! Music is a wonderful way to bring life back into our limbs. Put on a song that stirs memories. (And try to be alone in the room, so you can move spontaneously, without feeling self-conscious.) As the music plays, allow yourself to sway gently. Shift from one foot to the other. Move your arms freely—let them express your mood. Bend your legs, tap, twist, reach to the sky, reach to the floor, turn around. Let the music move your body until the song is done. When your body remembers how happy it is to move, you’ll find yourself moving more.
Activate Your “Chi”
If you’ve enjoyed these simple techniques, consider taking the next step! Qigong (pronounced “Chee-Gong”) is a delightful practice of moving meditation designed to improve well-being. Qi (or chi) means “life energy,” and Qigong means “working with energy.” Qigong activates the sinovial fluid in your joints, lowers cortisol levels, and reduces arthritis and joint pain. It also gets your circulation going, improves mental functioning, and reduces stress. Some of the gestures are rapid and exhilarating, others are slow and easy. But above all, they’re fun.
And That’s Not All
There’s a whole world of possibilities. Consider trying Tai Chi Chuan, a sequence of refined but powerful movements. You learn one easy movement a week, until you can move through the whole sequence in a state of complete relaxation. Or, dive into yoga! For seniors, we recommend gentle restorative yoga. A skilled instructor can help you achieve deep, easy stretches with just a few simple props. Your posture will improve—some people even report they’ve grow an inch or two.
With these six simple, low-impact routines, an ordinary day can be a vibrant and energized experience. Your body will be more aligned, your strength and flexibility will improve. These movements will also effortlessly stimulate your internal organs, aiding digestion and helping you to sleep soundly. It’s never too late to feel fully alive!