Do you know one of the best forms of exercise for your health is free?

Yes, FREE!!! and who doesn’t love a bargain?

So what’s this secret exercise?

Walking.  It can help transform people’s health according to The “Walking Works” report by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support.

“Walking works. It makes people happy, keeps everyone healthy and can even save your life.” 

If you have been dithering over whether to start being more physically active then you need to read that report and stop making excuses.

“Being active also slashes the risk of getting these serious diseasesby 20-50%:
• heart disease
• stroke
• type 2 diabetes
• colon and breast cancer
• Alzheimer’s disease.12, 13, 14”   Walking Works summary report (1.2MB, PDF)

Not only could it help improve your health it can also improve your social life. If you would rather not walk alone then Walking for Health offers free, local easy walks tailored to you. It has also been shown that encouragement and support from a group can increase motivation to exercise.  Walking outside can also be a great way of getting your daily dose of vitamin D.

If you fancy walking alone (and sometimes it is lovely to have time by yourselves) then have a read of this blog post  Walking your Way to Fitness

Whether you walk alone, with friends, with grandchildren or with the dog walking counts as part of the 150 minutes a week of physical activity you should be aiming for.

“ If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity, it would be regarded as a wonder drug or a miracle cure.” 

Sir Liam Donaldson, The former Chief Medical Officer of England

Before starting any new exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise changes with them.

I hope you have found this article informative. 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 in the Farnham area, please go here Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over 50s. This will open a new browser window.

Another quadricep exercise if you have arthritis.

The most common search term that lands a person at my blog usually incorporates the words quadricep exercise and arthritis.  I have already covered the topic here  but I thought I would explain another exercise that you can do to strengthen your quadriceps if you have arthritis in your knees.

This is not only for those with arthritis, if you still find wall squats difficult for any reason then this might be a good substitute.  This exercise does need a piece of equipment, a resistance band. Now you can get various different types of resistance bands, if you have any problems with your wrists I recommend you get ones with a handle.

Here are some examples of what you could use (not price checked)  Fitness-MAD studio Pro Safety Resistance Tube  or Perfect Fitess Resistance Band system  or USA Pro Body Bands (no handles).

As this exercise is for a large muscle group I recommend you get one of the heavier resistance bands.

I will be doing some more articles using resistance bands as they really are perfect for throwing in your bag and taking with you for a walk around the park.

Leg Press using resistance band

  1. Sit on a bench/chair, bend your left knee, and lift your foot from the ground. You can lean back slightly during the exercise but be careful that your don’t slump with rounded shoulders.
  2. Wrap the center of the resistance band around your left foot and hold both ends of the band in your hands.  Your hands should be  either side of your body at about waist level. Your toes should be pointed down at a slight angle.
  3.  Pushing out  with your foot straighten your  left leg out in front of your body and stop just before locking your knee.
  4. Bend your knee slowly to return slowly to your starting position.
  5. Do 5 repetitions and change leg.

Remember to do this exercise slowly to get the full benefit, there should always be tension in the band.

Once you are comfortable doing 5 repetitions on each leg then increase the number of repetitions you do.

Before starting any new exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise changes with them.

I hope you have found this article informative. 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.

Adding weight to your workout – Part 2 – The Squat

I am going to nominate the squat as one of the most important exercises you can do whether its the wall slide, body weight squat or squat with added weight. To prove how important it is one of the most oft used phrases when teaching the squat is “pretend you are sitting down in a chair”. Yes being able to squat means you will continue to be able to sit down and stand up safely without using your arms (or the chair arms) for assistance. Stronger legs means better balance, so less likely to fall. They also reduce your risk of lower back and knee pain, improve mobility  and of course who doesn’t want a bottom that fills out their trousers.

Beginner – Walls slide  (also good for those with arthritis in the knee)

  1. Stand against a wall with your back touching it. Your feet should be shoulder width apart.
  2. Begin by slowly sliding down the wall, maintaining contact, until you are in seated position.  Your  hips and knees should both  be at 90-degrees, your back flat against the wall, your heels  on the ground and your knee joint should be directly above your ankle joint.

Do not worry if you can not get this far down to start with, just slide down the wall to a position comfortable for you.

3.  Slowly push with the legs, weight going thru the heels and slide up the wall to return to starting position.

Start by doing this 3 times a day, to increase the difficulty of this exercise then when you are in the seated position hold for 5 seconds before sliding back up the wall.

Intermediate – Body weight squat to chair

When you first try these place a chair behind you, it will help you visualise what you are suppose to be doing. If necessary actually sit in the chair when you lower yourself.

  1. Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder width apart with toes turned out at a slight angle.
  2. Push back your hips as if you were going to sit in the chair, think about reaching back with your bottom attempting to touch the chair . Whilst you are doing this you need to remember
  • Do not round your back
  • Keep chest up
  • Your knees should track over your toes i.e. you should be pushing your knees out, they shouldn’t be collapsing inwards.
  • Keep weight toward the heels, you should be able to wiggle your toes.
  • Eyes looking foward, your chin should be parallel with the floor

3.  The position you are going down to is just below parallel for your thighs, where your bottom drops below your knees BUT this is a position you are working towards, when you start just go down as far as it feels comfortable. At this point your form is more important than your range of movement.

4. Keeping the weight in your heels, slowly push your body back up.

5. Start with 3 repetitions and work up to 10.

So 2 exercises the press up and squat, both movements which use lots of muscles but no equipment! The next post will be covering a back exercise, as we age it’s actually important that we strengthen the back to help prevent the hunching that can occur as we age for now – as you are probably reading this on a PC or laptop –  I will just say sit up straight!

Before starting any new exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise changes with them.

I hope you have found this article informative. If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

Helen Witcomb runs Whole Life Fitness which is a personal training company which specialises in the over 50s. For more information please visit Whole Life Fitness or call 01252313578.

Balance and strength training ‘help prevent falls’

A study published recently in the Britsh Medical Journal has shown that integrating balance and strength exercises into daily life can significantly reduce the risk of a repeat fall. The study was conducted on people 70 years or older, living in the community and having two or more falls, or one injurious fall, in the past year.

There were 3 groups, a control group, a group engaged in structured exercise using weighted ankle cuffs and a group assigned a  Lifestyle integrated Functional Exercise (LiFE) programme designed by the University of Sydney. This programme  involved embedding balance and lower limb strength training into daily routines, such as walking, stepping over objects and moving from sitting to standing.

The study, conducted over a year,  found a significant (31%) reduction in the rate of falls for participants in the LiFE programme compared with the control group. The overall incidence of falls in the LiFE programme was 1.66 per person years, compared with 1.90 in the structured programme and 2.28 in the control group.  There was a non-significant reduction in the rate of falls for participants in the structured programme compared to the control group.

In New South Wales a report puts the amount of older adults doing strength training at less than 10%.  I was not able to find a  figure for the UK  but the fact is that only 8% currently go to the gym regularly  and only 17% of men and 12% of women in the 65-74 age bracket are reaching recommended levels of exercise a week (taken from the 204 Chief Medical Offices Report).

The 2011 Chief Medical Officers report, Start Active, Stay Active  gives the following recommendations for strength training:

  • Older adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week.
  • Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week.

The study also suggested that exercise incorporated into every day life resulted to greater adherence to the  programme.

As well as helping reduce the risk of falls there are  many other benefits of strength training for older adults,

For more information about the report please click  here which will take you the the BMJ.

I run a small exercise group in Farnham in the beautiful Farnham Park which combines a brisk walk with strength training. It caters to all levels of fitness and it is always lovely to see new faces.

Before starting any new exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise changes with them.

I hope you have found this article informative. If you have any questions on this article, or any questions about exercise please post a comment. By subscribing to this blog you will be informed of any new articles. You will not receive any spam email.

Helen Witcomb runs Whole Life Fitness which is a personal training company which specialises in the over 50s. For more information please visit Whole Life Fitness or call 01252313578.

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.

Every year over 400,000 older people in England attend A&E departments following a fall.

Falls are a major health problem among older adults. Every year over 400,000 older people in England attend A&E departments following a fall. 30% of over 65yrs will fall each year, rising to 50% of 85yr olds[i].

Why does the risk of falling increase?

  • Deterioration in muscle strength and balance
  • Failing vision
  •  Medication which can increase the risk of, or be the cause of, falls[ii]

Research has shown that just the fear of falling can increase the risk of falling [iii]. Women have the added problem of osteoporosis which places them at greater risk of breaking a bone if they do have a fall. Most falls take place when performing everyday activities and it is estimated that 30-40% of falls can be avoided.

So how can you reduce the risk of falls?

Balance and mobility training can reduce the risks of falling in later life. There have been 5 skills identified which are needed for better balance:

  • The ability to walk and turn the head at the same time
  •  The ability to extend the hip backwards
  • The ability to reach down and pick up something from the floor
  •  The ability to reach up above one’s head
  •  The ability to stand on one foot for five seconds

These provide a guideline to plan a personalised exercise program which should also include posture exercises and stretching.

To challenge balance it could be as simple as changing the base of support from standing on a firm surface such as the floor to standing on a foam base. The challenge should gradually increase as balance improves such as combining changing base of support with movement i.e. standing on a wobble board whilst reaching up to be passed an object or to catch a ball. Balance and mobility exercises also include such activities as marching on the spot, calf raises, balance on one leg with support and step up and step down to name but a few.

Balance and mobility exercises have positive effects on everyday activities such as:

  • Improve the ability to stand on a bus or train as they help develop the ability to maintain and regain balance
  • Walking in poor lighting as they improve non-visual sensory input for better balance
  • Going for a walk in the park, over cobble stones or pavements as they help to maintain and regain balance when ground levels change or when stepping over and around obstacles
  •  Climbing up and down stairs as they increase leg strength and core stability

Other activities which can help (in addition to specific balance exercises) are walking, water workouts, tai chi[iv] or yoga. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, co-ordination and flexibility.

Falls can be devastating to the affected individual and in some cases cause death. Even lesser falls can lead to loss of self-confidence and reduced quality of life.

My next blog  will describe some balance and mobility exercises that you can do at home. If you have any questions please post a comment.

Staying Steady – Age UK

Whole Life Fitness, Personal Training for the over-50s

[i] ( DOH 2001)

[ii] http://www.bhps.org.uk/falls/documents/Medicn&RiskOfFalls.pdf

[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11024126

[iv] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12170441

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