How to Improve Strength and Mobility without Really Exercising

By Carol Witham, CES

My name is Carol Witham and I have been a personal trainer for the past sixteen years. In addition to being certified as a personal trainer through The American Council on Exercise, I am also certified as an Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist.
Here is a statement I have heard on many occasions. “Carol, I want to exercise but I work and do not have the time or energy and besides I feel really stiff in the morning.”

I truly enjoy my clients. Many are in the 50’s, 60’s and 70s. Some have jobs and some do not but have very busy lives in general. Very often they need to be reminded that no matter how busy they are, they have to find time to move their bodies.

A person’s body is designed to move, not sit around. Strengthening and stretching your body is an important aspect of remaining independent and slowing the aging process. If you are older and live alone, being strong can help to prevent falling, something dreaded by all of us. Exercise or movement is also a way to release endorphins that elevate your mood. This can be particularly important for those of us in the Northeast who suffer from a lack of natural sunlight. I personally find that the lack of sunlight can be depressing during the winter and utilize full spectrum lighting. Movement incorporated into our daily lives can help to elevate our moods and keep our bodies flexible and strong.

So here are a few easy ways to incorporate exercise into your daily life without adding another item to your “to do list.”

Most of us brush our teeth in the morning before we start our day. I have a 2- minute timer on my toothbrush. During the two minutes that I brush my teeth, I also do T’ai Chi Plies. T’ai Chi Plies are a great way to strengthen your thighs or quadriceps, your gluteus muscles (the ones you sit on) and your abdominals, because the abs should always be held tightly and pulled up to support the back.

Here is how to perform a T’ai Chi Plie. You stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder distance apart, with the feet turned out at a 45 degree angle, tighten your quadriceps and lower your body down, maintaining good alignment of your knees over the center of your feet. You will also begin to gain flexibility in your groin area or hip flexor area by doing this exercise. As you become stronger, you should become more flexible. As you pull up, tighten your gluteus muscle. This will work into your hamstrings. Besides being mindful of your knee alignment, keep your back as straight as possible and try not to shift the hips forward. It is almost as though you are trying to sit in a chair.

You can do the Plies in the morning when brushing. You can do heel raises to work the calf muscles in the evening before bedtime. Or you could do leg lifts to the side to strengthen the hips and abductor muscles. Stand up as straight as you can for side leg lifts. Please remember to keep your feet parallel and kick out to the side. With heel raises, you can work the calf and practice balance. Side leg lifts also work on your balance.

Also try parking your car further away each time from the grocery store, department store or post office and walk to it and back. It is an easy way to add a little more activity into your day.

Walking is a good exercise for your emotional health as well. This is pretty well documented. Sharing a walk with a friend is a great way to experience exercise in your life. The walks needn’t be long. They can be 20 minutes. Somewhere in your day, try to find 20 minutes. If you have a dog, he or she will be very happy for the activity.

If you have stairs in your home or where your work, use them. You can get exercise going up and down your stairs 10 times a day. How long does that take? You can split it up, 5 times in the morning and 5 times in the evening. While washing dishes (ones that don’t go into a dishwasher), do knee lifts. This works your quadriceps and hips. You can lift the knee in different directions. Or kick your heel up trying to touch your bottom. That works the hamstrings. While you are watching the news, stand up and run in place. You can vary the intensity over the duration of your local or world news program. At least you will get something worthwhile out of the time you are spending!

When you sit down, don’t sit all of the way down, stand up again, sit down again but not all of the way, stand up again, sit down again. Doing that a few times each day, adds a little strength work into your day without extending it. This may sound like a silly exercise, but one of the things I hear from my older clients is that they have difficulty getting up off the toilet. This is a way to prevent that problem.

Another easy thing to do while watching television or reading is to lift your arms out to the sides, shoulder height, or up to the front shoulder height. Repeat it 10 or so times in each direction. The weight of your arms acts as a resistance. You can strengthen your shoulders this way.

Have fun and stay healthy.

Carol Witham: Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist. Carol is a personal trainer and a certified T’ai Chi instructor. She is also a Level III Essentrics Apprentice Instructor, as well as a Reiki Master with sixteen years of personal training experience and 20-years of T’ai Chi/Qigong experience. She operates a personal training studio, Optimum Performance on the mid-coast of Maine, where in addition to personal training, she offers group strength classes, classes for seniors, T’ai Chi & Qigong. Carol is the facilitator of the Midcoast Parkinson’s Support Group at Quarry Hill in Camden Maine and has the recommendation for her exercise program for Parkinson’s through the local neurological group and the head of programming at Quarry Hill, a retirement Community in Camden.