What is “core strength” ?

The core muscles are those that make up the abdomen, lower back and pelvis. If you think of the area that is covered by a corset, that is where those muscles lie. They are essential to having good balance and stability, which helps to prevent falls and lower back pain. They also help to pick up the grandchildren without injuring yourself.  Basically all functional movements (including standing still) are dependent on the core,the only time you aren’t engaging those muscles is when you are lying down on your back!

I am going to describe two exercises which are fantastic for all the muscles in the core.

Bird Dog

  1. Get on your hands and knees (hands directly below your shoulders, knees directly below your hips).
  2. Engage your core and abdominal muscles. Imagine you are tightening a corset around your waist, keep breathing steadily and never hold your breath.
  3. Slowly lift up your right leg backwards (don’t let your hips tilt to one side whilst moving your legs), and your left arm forwards (so they are parallel to the floor).
  4. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.
  5. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
  6. Repeat the whole process 5 times.
The Plank
The second exercise is slightly harder and is called The Plank. It has taken over from the crunch/sit up as the stomach exercise of choice, and with good reason. As the plank is an isometric exercise you should seek medical advice if you have a history of high blood pressure or heart disease.

  1. Lie facedown on the mat. Place forearms on mat, elbows under shoulders. Place legs together with forefeet on floor.
  2. Raise body upward by straightening body on elbows and toes. Keep breathing steadily and never hold your breath.Your back, neck and head should be in a straight line.
  3. Hold position for between 10-30 seconds.
If you find this too difficult to start with then balance on your knees and elbows making sure you still keep that straight line between back, neck and head.
So two exercises which can be done at home with no equipment.

As I was writing this article I pondered whether people would find it easier to do the exercise if I provided a video or photos of the exercise. If you think this would help please leave a comment.

If you do an exercise and display any of the following symptoms: headache, dizziness or nausea you should stop immediately and consult your doctor.

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

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Why is vitamin D important for the over 65s

Most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need by eating a healthy balanced diet and by getting some sun. However if you are over 65 the NHS recommend you take daily vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D deficiency is an established risk factor for osteoporosis, falls and fractures.

So what does Vitamin D do?

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.  Without sufficient vitamin D bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Muscles need it to move,  nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part, and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.  Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.

Why is it recommmended that the over 65s take a daily vitamin D supplement?

The older you get the more you are less likely to particpiate in outdoor activites and if you are outdoors you are more likely to cover up, therefore limiting sun exposure (sun exposure through a window does not count). Of course sun exposure needs to be approached with caution due to the risk of skin cancer.

If you don’t like taking supplements the 5 best food sources of vitamin D are:

  • cod liver oil
  • oily fish
  • margarine
  • beef liver
  • egg yolk

How much vitamin D do I need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) for both male and female between the ages of 51-70.

There are medications which can interfere with the bodies utilisation of vitamin D therefore if you are on medication it may be worth talking to your GP before taking a supplement.

NHS Choices – Vitamin D

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

How exercise can help with the menopause

The menopause is the end of egg production (ovulation) and a woman is considered post-menopausal a year after her last period. This occurs as a result of falling levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen.

Symptoms

About 80% of women will experience symptoms leading up to the menopause.
These may include:

  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Vaginal symptoms
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Irregular/changed periods
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

Without treatment, most menopausal symptoms gradually stop naturally. This usually happens two to five years after the symptoms start, although some women experience symptoms for many more years.

So why is exercise important?

During the menopause oestrogen levels fall, calcium levels drop and bone demineralisation accelerates (bone mass losses of 3-5% can occur in women). A loss of bone mineral density can lead to osteoporosis and every 3 minutes someone suffers a fracture due to osteoporosis.

Other health risks exacerbated by a combination of the menopause and low level of activity are:

  • heart disease[1]
  • stroke
  • hypertension
  • reduced physical function

The first bit of good news is that  a new study has shown that the menopause does not put you at higher risk of developing diabetes[2] as once thought.
The second bit of good news is that many of the symptoms and risks of the menopause can be reduced by different types of exercise. Doing short, frequent sessions of weight-bearing exercise can reduce the risk of osteoporosis (older adults who exercise at least one hour every day reduce the risk of fracturing their hip by 50%). Cardiovascular/Aerobic exercise can help with heart disease, hot flushes and night sweats whilst a class such as yoga can help with mood swings and sleep disturbances.

Your main aim should be to build up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise activity on 5 or more days of the week. This is any exercise (walking, jogging, dancing, aerobic or circuit training, cycling,swimming) where you get warmer, breath faster and have an elevated heart rate.  It could be something as simple as doing step-ups on your stairs or marching around the garden/park  (remember to swing the arms, the more muscles working the more energy is burnt). The goal is to get the heart rate up but you should still be able to talk.  You could start with doing 3 episodes of 10 minutes a day.

Strength training can be done using resistance machines or weights if you are a member of a gym, dynabands or bodyweight if you prefer to exercise outside or at home or in the pool at a class such as aqua aerobics. Ideally strength training should be undertaken up to 3 times per week on non-consecutive days.

In the next few weeks I will be posting more blogs about how to do both dynaband and body weight exercises at home or outside. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

[1] Menopause and cardiovascular disease: the evidence

[2] Does Menopause Matter When It Comes to Diabetes?

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

Do you have difficulties getting out of a chair?

The ability to stand up from a chair is a key skill to maintain independence and mobility. As you get older you lose strength in the hip and knee extensors which are the muscles that help straighten our legs. In this blog I am first going to discuss how to get out of a chair safely before going on to describe some exercises to strengthen the legs.

How to stand up safely

  1. Move your bottom to the edge of the chair.
  2. Place both feet  flat on the floor.
  3. Place both hands on the arm rests of the chair. If there are no arm rests, then place both hands on the edge of the chair.
  4. Lean forward so that your nose is over your toes.
  5. Push down through your arms as you help unload your weight off the chair.
  6. As you are pushing down through your arms, begin straightening your legs.
  7. Let go of the chair and finish straightening your legs

To be able to stand up from a chair without assistance requires strong leg muscles. The following exercises practiced a few times a week will help impove your ability to stand from your chair. Before doing the exercises march in place in your chair for a couple of minutes, this will help restore mobility to the hip joint and also warm up the leg muscles.

Seated Leg extensions (can aggravate osteoarthritis)

  1. Sit on chair with feet flat infront of you, palms holding chair edge at sides or front. 
  2. Keeping left foot on floor and upper body still, slowly extend the right leg (bending from the knee) until it is parallel with the floor. Hold here for 2 counts 
  3. Bend knee to lower right leg back to floor.
  4. Repeat 10 times and then change legs. 

Standing Gluteal Kick backs

  1. Stand behind a high backed chair holding on the back for balance. Avoid leaning forward during the exercise.
  2. Lift one leg behind you keeping the raised leg straight but have a slight bend in the leg you are standing on. Hold for a count of 5.
  3. Slowly lower leg.
  4. Repeat 10 times and then change legs.

Seated Calf raises

  1. Start by sitting upright in a high backed chair with your back straight and your legs bent so that your feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Press your legs upward so that your heels are off the ground and only your toes and the balls of the top of your foot are still in contact with the floor.
  3. Hold at the top of the movement for two seconds, and slowly lower back down.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Sit to Stand

  1. Sit in a high backed chair and slide forward as far as possible
  2. Move your feet back so your heels are lined up with the front edge of the chair.
  3. Use your bottom and legs to stand up. Try only to use your hands on the chair for balance if necessary. If this is too difficult then you can put some cushions to raise the level of the seat.
  4. Repeat 5 times. If possible practice this exercise daily.

These exercises will not only help you stand from a chair unassisted but also improve your ability to walk up and down stairs, reach for something on a high shelf and improve your balance.

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

Two exercises to improve posture.

Poor posture can lead to all sorts of problems and increase your risk of falling, however there are exercises that practiced regularly can help you improve your posture and feel more comfortable. 
The Standing Wall Angel has already been documented in Resistance exercises using body weight and is excellent for improving posture,  the second exercise is Brugger’s Relief Exercise.

Standing Wall angel

  1. Stand flat up against a wall with your back to the wall and feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Press the small of your back into the wall and bend your arms to that the backs of your arms and hands are pressed against the wall at a 90-degree angle to your body. If you can’t get your arms against the wall do not arch your back just take elbows back until you feel a stretch.
  3. Move your arms up the wall, keeping your wrists and elbows pressed against the wall (if you can). You are aiming to get the hands together above the head, but again don’t worry if this isn’t possible yet just do the range of movement you are capable of.
  4. Lower hands to the starting position.

Repeat 10 times.

Brugger’s  Relief

      1. Sit on the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands by your sides.
      2. Lift your chest, arch your lower back slightly and point the crown of your head directly up at the ceiling — think tall.
      3. From this position, turn your palms outward and relax your shoulders down. This will pull your shoulders back and open up your chest.
      4. Look straight forward then try to retract your chin toward the back of your head without tilting your head backward
      5. Hold this position for 10 seconds whilst breathing normally and then relax for 10 seconds.

Repeat five times. Try and do this exercise several times a day, especially if you spend a lot of time at a desk or watching TV.

Good posture while sitting, standing and lifting can help you avoid pain, make your life more comfortable and avoid injury.

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

For more information on Personal Training please go to Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

Osteoporosis. What is it and how you can help prevent it.

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mineral density that causes bones to become brittle and highly susceptible to fracture – particularly in the hip, spine and wrists. No matter what your age, bone needs physical activity, just like muscle, to retain strength and post-menopausal women can expect to lose around 1% of their bone mineral density each year. Currently 1 in 2 adults over 50 are inactive, that is they participate in fewer than 30 minutes of exercise per week[1].
Other modifiable lifestyle factors that can affect bone density are:

  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol intake
  • poor nutrition
  • low calcium intake

There are no warning signs of osteoporosis. The disease is silent and painless until a fracture has occurred.

Exercise works for osteoporosis prevention because it places stress on bones, which results in increased bone mass. For post-menopausal woman the most effective exercise to strengthen bones is high impact exercise[2]. A well balanced exercise programme including weight-bearing, impact exercises and strength training should be designed for an individual hoping to prevent or minimise the deterioration of osteoporosis.

Weight bearing high impact exercises could include:

  • dancing
  • hiking
  • jogging
  • stair climbing
  • tennis

If you are not able to do high impact exercises then you could consider:

  • elliptical training machines
  • low impact aerobics
  • stair-step machines
  • walking (treadmill/outside)

Strength training should have a whole body approach as adaptations in bone mineral density are site specific. Strength training exercises include activities such as:

  • Functional movements, such as standing and rising up on your toes
  • Lifting weights
  • Using elastic exercise bands/dynabands
  • Using weight machines
  • Lifting your own body weight, such as push-ups.

 If you would like to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, increase your bone density and slow or reverse the normal bone loss associated with ageing, a good place to start would be my blog on  Resistance exercises using body weight.

If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise and the over-50s please post a comment.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

[1] Department of Health. (2004). At least 5 a week: evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health.

[2] Wallace BA and Cumming RG., (2000) Systematic review of randomized trials of the effect of exercise on bone mass in pre- and postmenopausal women. Calcif Tissue Int 67: 10-18.

Tennis – warm up, cool down and stretching

I’ve had a request for some ideas for a tennis warm up and cool down.

Tennis is excellent all round exercise, and you can play tennis as long as you’re able to walk and move your arm. However as you get older, the warm up becomes even more important to help prevent injury and keep you playing your best.

Whilst a debate rages whether stretching before exercise is worthwhile, one thing not in doubt is the importance of the warm up. This should increase your heart rate and increase the blood flow to your muscles. It also improves elasticity of the muscles, tendons and joints which is particularly important for injury prevention in older adults.

Warm up

  1. 2 circuits of the tennis court at a fast walk, marching arms
  2. Arm Swings
    1. Stand with feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent, and start with arms straight in front of you
    2. Swing arms wide, contracting shoulder blades together, then bring them all the way across the chest in a hug, gradually speeding up the movements and increasing the range of motion for about 30 seconds
  3. Side step from one side of the court to the other, and back. Do this twice.
  4. Arm circles
    1. Stand with feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent amd hold both arms straight out to your sides.
    2. Starting with small arm circles, gradually increase the size and speed of the circles for about 30 seconds.
    3. Reverse your direction and repeat.
  5. Walks backwards from baseline to net and back . Repeat twice (if you are feeling confident then increase speed)
  6. Spinal Rotation
    1. Stand with feet comfortably apart and knees slightly bent.
    2. Relax the shoulders and lift your arms so hands are horizontally in front of the upper chest
    3. Gentle rotate the upper body to the right and then to the left, keeping hips and feet facing forwards, for about 30 seconds
  7. Slow  jog from baseline to net. Repeat twice

By now you should feel your heart rate has elevated slightly and be feeling warm, if not you can replace the walk with a jog and increase the speed of the side steps and the slow jog.

Enjoy your game.

Cool down/Stretching

At the end it’s good to get used to a cool-down, it just needs to be a slow walk around the perimeter of the tennis court followed by some stretching. As tennis tends to be a social game there is a temptation just to down racquets and start the socialising part but as tennis uses pretty much every muscle in the body this is an ideal time to do some stretching. Flexibility is a “use it or lose it” skill and you can always improve your range of motion and increase your flexibility (thus improving your game!).
Stretching shouldn’t hurt – stop at the point of tension and avoid bouncing or jarring movements. Inhale deeply as you begin a stretch, and exhale fully as you move deeper into the stretch. Hold each stretch for 15 seconds.

Quadricep stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Bend knee, grab the front of the ankle and pull the foot towards the bottom until a stretch is felt in the front of the thigh.
  3. Hold for 15 seconds, release and change legs.

Hamstring stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Place hands on hips and take a small step forward keeping the front leg straight and slightly bending the rear knee.
  3. Lean forwards from the waist, keeping the back straight.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds, release and change legs.

Calf stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees bent slightly
  2. Take a step backwards – the front knee should be directly in line with the ankle.
  3. With hands on your hips lean your body forward slightly, keeping back foot on floor.
  4. Hold for 15 seconds, release and change legs.

Chest stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Place your hands on your hips just above the bottom with palms facing the body and move the elbows backwards until a mild stretch is felt.
  3. Hold for 15 seconds and then release.

Upper back stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent
  2. Clasp your hands together in front of you with palms facing the body
  3. Straighten the arms and gently raise to shoulder height
  4. Make a round back and push your hands away from you, lowering the chin slightly.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds and then release.

Shoulder Stretch

  1. Hold your left arm across your body and grab the back of your left elbow with your right hand
  2. Pull the left elbow in as far as you can so that your left fingertips can reach around your right shoulder.
  3. Hold for 15 seconds, release and change arms.

The  warm-up and stretching should take no more than 5/10 minutes and could make the difference between playing again next week or being injured.

If there is anyone out there who would like to see some suggestions for their particular sport then please leave a comment.

For more information on Personal Training please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s This will open a new browser window.

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