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Making Home into a Gym

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I have written in other postings about how “staying active” can be tremendously important for older adults or others with special needs.  Everyone – no matter what their age – can be active, and it does not even require going to a gym or spa to do it. 

Elders and others should be encouraged to use everyday items around their homes to help them maintain range of motion and strength.  All of what I am sharing here should be cleared with a personal physician to be sure that it is within an acceptable range of activity for the elder or other special needs person in your orbit.  The following are just some examples, and your imagination is the only limit to how a person can workout at home.

For building strength, instruct your elder to use a sturdy chair with arm rests.  Approach as if to sit, but while still in a crouch with hands firmly on each arm, lower yourself to the point of almost sitting, and then rise up using the arms to lift as high as possible.  Lift up and down slowly like this as many times as is comfortable.  Then, sit and recover before standing.  This will help to strength and tone triceps in the upper arms.  Sitting in the same chair, try leg lifts.  Holding the abdomen muscles tight, lift legs until they are straight out horizontal to the floor.  Hold as long as possible, but be careful that the lower back can handle this (that is why holding the abdomen tight is important).  It will improve the quadriceps in the legs.  Some may find it easier to do this one leg at a time.

Using the stairs at home, encourage your elder to firmly hold the hand rail while stepping up one stair one foot at a time, and then back down.  Repeat as many times as is comfortable. 

From the pantry, canned goods or jugs of water or juice can be effective as handheld weights.  From standing or sitting, they can be used for curls to firm biceps and while lying on one’s back they can help to also maintain chest muscles.  More reps with lighter weights help with toning and fewer reps with more weight can actually help increase muscle mass.  And any of these in conjunction with an exercise bicycle, if physical ability allows, can help improve cardiovascular capacity and endurance.

For flexibility of the neck, while sitting gently roll the head to one side until the ear comes as close to touching the shoulder as possible.  Hold for a few counts, and then move slowly to the other shoulder and back.  Try also rolling forward until the chin can rest on the chest and back.  Then roll back as far as comfortable and then back.  Do each direction multiple times as comfort allows.

For flexibility in the arms while sitting, reach directly overhead as high as possible, hold and then relax.  Repeat multiple times.  Also, try reaching out with arms horizontal to the floor, bend at the elbow and reach for the opposite shoulder.  Alternative arms multiple times.  Finally, with arms extending vertically, bend the elbow to touch the same shoulder or as close as possible to touching.  It can be helpful to use the opposite hand to ease the opposite elbow into position.  Again, do this as many times as is comfortable, rotating back and forth between arms. 

For more explanation as well as other exercises, do not hesitate to ask your personal physician or a local physical therapist who also may be able to supply diagrams to follow.  As always, consult your health care provider before beginning any new exercise regimen.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.

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