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Exercises For Seniors to Improve Their Mobility

Learn more about different types of mobility exercises and why it's important to exercise as a senior to maintain health and wellness.

Mobility is the ability to move comfortably through deep ranges of motion without pain. Seniors with good mobility can make wide ranges of movement without pain, like squatting down to garden or reaching to change a lightbulb, and often experience decreased joint stiffness and fewer injuries.

Moving pain-free should be a goal for everyone, because the stronger and more mobile you are now, the better off you’ll be physically as you age.

The good news is that mobility exercises for seniors don’t require a lot of time or energy, and can be easily adapted to meet your needs and routine. Here are four of our favorite ways to improve range of motion, increase physical activity and live with less pain:

  1. Cactus Pose
    Cactus Pose is a beginner-level yoga pose that can increase the range of motion in your arms and shoulders, strengthen your rotator cuffs and back, and decrease back pain. This pose is usually performed while standing, but you can also do Cactus Pose while sitting in a chair or standing against a wall.
    1. Stand or sit tall, and pull your navel towards your spine to activate your core muscles.
    2. Inhale and extend your arms out in front of your chest, level with your shoulders.
    3. Exhale as you bend your elbows and bring your hands toward your ears.
    4. Inhale as you make a goal post or cactus shape with your arms, keeping your triceps level with your shoulders, and drawing your shoulder blades down your back.
    5. You can choose to stay here or exhale as you bend your arm back and push your chest forward.
    6. Inhale as you lower your arms back to starting position and exhale slowly to complete the pose.

It’s OK if you can’t bend your arms or shoulders very far. In fact, people of all ages discover how tight their shoulders are the first time they try Cactus Pose. The way your shoulder works is very complex, which makes it prone to injury. Practice this pose slowly, give yourself time, and you’ll feel the benefits in no time.

  1. Squats
    Squats are one of our favorite mobility exercises for seniors because they increase strength and flexibility in your hips, which can decrease back pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, improve the stability of your hips and pelvis as you walk, decrease the risk of falling and help you perform everyday tasks, like tidying up your home or standing from a seated position, without limitations.
    1. Stand up tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
    2. Your toes can face forward or be pointed slightly out.
    3. Extend your arms out in front of you to help maintain balance throughout this exercise or place your arms on the back of a chair for extra support.
    4. Draw your navel towards your spine to engage your core and slowly bend at the hips.
    5. Sit back as if you were to sit in a chair. In fact, you can actually cross your arms over your chest, slowly rise from a chair and slowly sit back down, if you’re not ready for full squats. These are called chair rises.
    6. As you sit back, keep your chest up, your core as tight as possible and go no lower than 90 degrees.
    7. Slowly stand back up, paying close attention to maintaining your balance.

It’s important your heels and toes remain firmly on the ground and your knees don’t move past your toes during squatting exercises. If you find your heels lifting, your knees bowing outward or pressure on the balls of your feet, lift out of your squat until weight is dispersed on the four corners of your feet.

  1. Standing marches
    Standing marches are a great exercise, not only for maintaining mobility, but also for maintaining independence. A study published by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science determined that older adults who regularly marched in place and performed chair rises were less likely to need help with activities of daily living and had improved gait strength, which led to increased walking speeds.
    1. Hold on to a table or countertop and straighten your spine
    2. Pull your navel toward your spine and engage as many core muscles as possible.
    3. Keeping your hips level, raise your knee like you’re marching in place.
    4. Alternate legs, bringing each knee up as high as you comfortably can.
    5. Move with control and focus on keeping your core strong and hips level.

Standing marches and Cactus Pose are two great mobility exercises for seniors to do in the pool. The water creates a gentle resistance, takes pressure off aching joints and provides buoyancy for those who are afraid of falling. Plus, spending time in the pool is a fun physical activity for all ages and fitness levels.

  1. Seated Cat-Cow Pose
    Traditional Cat-Cow Pose is a well-known yoga posture that can relieve lower back pain, strengthen your pelvic floor, stretch your hips and abdomen, increase blood circulation, and improve mobility in your spine. However, it’s difficult to achieve for seniors with knee pain, because it requires you to be on all fours. You can still receive many of the same benefits of Cat-Cow in a seated position.
    1. Sit in a chair, with your feet planted firmly on the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle.
    2. Place your hands palm down on your knees, turn your fingers to point toward each other as much as possible, and keep the heel of your hand on the outside of your lower thighs.
    3. Inhale and then exhale as you press into your hands and gently arch your back using your entire spine.
    4. Your face will be toward the sky, and your glute muscles may slide out behind you.
    5. Inhale, roll your shoulders forward and pull your navel toward your spine, slowly drop your chin to your chest, and push on your legs with your hands.

Cat-Cow requires yogic breathing which is slow, controlled breathing synchronized to the rhythm of yoga postures. Studies have shown that yogic breathing can reduce feelings of depression, decrease anxiety, increase mindfulness and even improve sleep.

The Importance of Exercise for Seniors

Physical activity is essential to maintaining mobility as you age, and it also comes with an abundance of other benefits that can help you maintain an independent lifestyle. Not only can staying active prevent and delay the progression of dementia, it can decrease the risk and symptoms of other health conditions like cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, vascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults age 65 and over get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. This also includes two days per week spent on activities that strengthen muscles and three days per week that include activities to improve balance.

Many senior living communities feature state-of-the-art fitness centers and group fitness classes that keep residents moving. Not to mention, you’re likely to make a friend or two while working up a sweat. To learn how you can lead an active lifestyle at a senior living community near you, use our community locator tool to help kick-start your search.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.