By: Dr. Dennis Nguyen, DPT
Maintaining good strength is important in order to stay healthy, especially as we grow older. You don’t have to look like a bodybuilder or fitness model to have good strength. Instead, you just need to make sure some key muscle groups remain strong and healthy to prevent any future injuries or issues. Without maintaining good strength, your muscles will atrophy and it will be harder to rebuild it as you get older. So by addressing your strength now, you can save yourself some trouble later. Here are some movements that will keep you strong in the long run.
The old adage is you never let your friends skip leg day. Well, there is good reason for this. If your lower extremities become weak, then your balance can be impaired leading to falls and injuries. Your legs are also important of course for functional mobility. If you allow your legs to grow weak, then eventually you will find it difficult to walk, climb stairs, and navigate community obstacles as you get older. So it is imperative to maintain good lower body strength. A good way to do this is by performing squats. Good squat form means you are pushing your hips backwards as you lower yourself. Imagine that there is a chair behind you that you are about to sit on. Also, make sure you don’t have your knees go past your toes, as this can put strain and pressure on your knees, leading to wear and tear. Make sure you lower back stays straight and it does not round forward or extend backwards.
If squatting is too difficult, then you can always give yourself some support by holding on to a countertop as you lower yourself down. If that remains too difficult, then try sitting up from a chair and sitting back down in order to build leg strength, and then progress from there.
Having a strong core will do wonders in preventing future injuries. A strong core provides you with stability in almost every movement you do. You activate your core whenever you get out of bed, step into the shower or car, or even when you are just walking. You don’t need to have a six-pack in order to have a strong core. However, you will need to maintain core strength by working on it. So here are some movements you can do that will help.
The first one is called supine marches. You lay on your back face up, and with your knees bent, lift one leg up at a time, moving at just the hips. Make sure you are squeezing your core (abdominal) muscles as you lift your legs. To make it more of a challenge, you can keep both legs in the air and slowly tap them down one at time.
Most people assume all your core muscles are in the front but your core musculature also include the muscles of your lower back and hips. In order to strengthen those, you can try an exercise called hip hinging.
Place a dowel (or any kind of stick-like item, such as a broomstick or umbrella) behind your back and make sure it is contacting your lower back, upper back, and head. This will keep you from rounding out your back as you perform the movement. Then, you will bend or hinge at the hips. You can keep your knees slightly bent when doing this, but you do not need to lower yourself like you are doing a squat. As you are bending forward, shift your weight to your heels and push your hips back. The dowel should not lose contact with any of the three points as you hinge forward. If you do, then try going through a smaller range until you get stronger. This exercise will also lead to better posture which is important as well.
Maintaining good flexibility is important for being strong. Tight muscles do not have the proper length tension relationship, which makes it difficult for it to contract properly. This in turn, makes them weaker. Also ,tight muscles causes restrictions in movements and places adverse strain on your joints. So maintaining good muscle length will help not only keep you strong but also prevent future injuries and age related problems. It will take too long to list every stretch you should perform here but a quick Youtube search will lead to a plethora of good stretching programs that should be done ideally every day. There are ones suited for beginners as well as for the more advanced ranging from 5 minutes to half an hour. Whatever time you find throughout the day you can try following along with these videos in order to stay strong.
Any movement is better than no movement. A sedentary lifestyle has many major consequences that can lead to future health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. So try to find some time to perform any kind of activity daily. Go on walks around the park or play catch with your kids. If you have a community pool, you can go swimming for a good fun workout. Instead of using the elevators, try taking the stairs. You can even try ballroom dancing in your living room. Any way you can incorporate more movement will be beneficial for you in the long run. So get up and move around, your body will thank you later.