I’m starting to see a pattern: older adults who go about their daily lives, then fall and can’t get up, and people who wait too long before they realize they’ve lost so much leg strength they can’t function independently anymore.
These folks enter their last decade or so thinking they’re strong enough to live out their years the way they want. After all, their legs easily carry them on a 30-minute walk, and up and down stairs. This is because their main exercise is walking, a fabulous activity that strengthens your heart, controls the risk of diabetes and decreases stress. But Baby Boomers and seniors, beware! If you think walking is all that’s necessary to maintain leg strength to carry you successfully into old age, think again!
You doubt me. Of course your legs are strong, you insist. But humor me; take a minute to answer these questions (which are among the reasons my clients to hire me):
- Can you squat down like you’re getting something out of a bottom shelf in your kitchen and stand up without using your hands?
- Can you get off a chair, sofa or toilet without pushing with your hands?
- Sit on the floor, in the middle of a room. Pretend you’ve just fallen. Can you get up without the aid of a chair, sofa, bed, coffee table or wall?
If you answered NO to any of these questions, your legs are not strong enough for a life of independence.
Blame It on Mother Nature
As we age, our muscles and bones get weaker. Sarcopenia is the term for age-related muscle loss. Inactive people lose 3% – 5% of their muscles per decade after age 30. We’ve all heard of osteoporosis, bone weakening resulting from a loss of bone mass. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Both muscle and bone mass decrease with age, and walking WILL NOT:
• Build muscle size for stronger legs
• Strengthen bones
To build muscle mass (and therefore strength), one needs consistent and progressively more strenuous weight training to stress the muscles. As muscle fibers repair, they become larger and stronger. Weight-bearing activities also increase bone mass. Simply walking doesn’t provide the type of stimulus needed for these processes.
Bottom line? Keep walking—it’s great for your heart and your head! But be sure to add strength-building exercises to your weekly routine:
• Start with a simple sit/stand. Sit near the front edge of a sturdy chair with feet about an inch in front of your chair legs. Be sure knees and feet are pointed slightly outward. Extend hands in front of you. Lean forward and lift your bottom 3 inches off the chair. Return. Repeat 10 times.
Then proceed to:
• Squats, lunges, dead lifts and calf raises
• Machine-based exercises—leg curls and leg presses
• Complete 2 – 3 sets of 12 – 15 repetitions for each exercise, at least twice a week
• Increase the weight level after a few weeks
To discover other ways to improve your chances for independent living, give me a call!
We can discuss some practical tips and discover if any of my programs or classes are a good fit for you.
If you’d like to schedule that call with me, just CLICK THIS LINK, and let me know in the message that you would like a 1-on-1 call with me right away and I will be in touch to schedule that – oh, and leave me your phone number in there too since email is not as reliable as it used to be! Thanks.