Exercising for Seniors (Part 3 of 4)

Keep Legs Strong With Lower Body Exercises

Lower body exercises are important for older adults in maintaining mobility and balance, preventing back problems, and even in helping to slow the progression of osteoporosis, and reducing knee problems. In combination with maintaining cardiovascular activity, such as walking at least three times weekly, older adults can perform these simple exercises to maintain balance and mobility.

Because it is part of your day-to-day activity, many don’t recognize the value of walking up stairs for exercise. To begin doing stairs for exercise, make sure to start gradually. If you have not gone up a flight of stairs for a while, do not do a whole flight the first time. Start by going up the first three or four steps to get your legs used to it again, and work to go up the entire flight. Walking up stairs is effective not only for increasing your cardiovascular capacity, but also works both the hamstring and quad muscles, which are required for leg flexion and extension.

To target the hamstring muscles more specifically, Hamstring Walk-Ins can be performed at home with an exercise ball. Although the hamstring muscles are often overlooked, they are important to maintain as we age, as they work to stabilize the knee, and serve primarily to facilitate flexion of the leg, and help with movements involved with walking, pedalling, and running. To perform Hamstring Walk-Ins, begin by lying on your back, with your feet up on the exercise ball, and your hands on the floor, by your side. When starting out keep your hips on the floor but as you progress you can perform the exercise with your hips elevated a few inches to increase the difficulty of the movement. Start with your legs straight and slowly bend your knees while rolling the ball towards your buttocks, and then return to starting position. Perform two sets of 10 to 20 repetitions, depending on your comfort level. The effort should be felt in your hamstrings; however, this is exercise is also effective at strengthening many of your trunk stabilization muscles.

Leg Curls are also effective for working the hamstring muscles. To perform leg curls, stand behind a chair, balancing yourself with both hands on the back of the chair. Bend one leg back at the knee, curling your heel up towards your backside. Alternate between each leg, working up to 20 to 30 repetitions for each leg.

Leg Extensions are also a good exercise for the leg, and work to target the quads, the main muscle group required for leg extension. To perform leg extensions, sit straight up on a chair, with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Alternating between legs, extend your leg out straight in front of you, while keeping your foot flexed. Work up to 20 repetitions.

For both leg curls and leg extensions, once you can comfortably perform 20 repetitions for each leg, add ankle weights for a greater challenge. Ankle weights can be purchased at most sporting goods stores for as little as $10, and can be used for a variety of exercises, including exercises for the upper body.

Performing these exercises twice weekly will work to increase the mobility and strength in your lower body. If you progress at a slow and gradual pace, you will be able to avoid muscle pain, which can arise as a result of doing too much at once.