When you think of strength training, exercises such as squats, sit-ups, pushups, and bench presses probably come to mind. And they are all effective. As you get older, though, you may shy away from these moves because of pain or other limitations. But avoiding them will only exacerbate the normal muscle loss that comes with age.
“Maintaining strength is essential for maintaining independence and mobility as you age,” says Miriam C. Morey, PhD, co-director of the Older Americans Independence Center at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.
The prescription for doing that is easier than you may think. Morey recommends the four simple exercises below to hit all your major muscle groups. They’re modifications of traditional exercises, to make them doable for adults at all levels and abilities—but they’ll work just as well. Aim to do 10 to 12 reps of each (both sides for the seated arm and leg lift) twice a week. (That will take you just 10 minutes a week!) You can expect to see results in about two weeks.
Arms and Chest
The stronger your upper body is, the easier it will be to carry groceries and do chores such as laundry.
Try wall presses. Compared with pushups, wall presses reduce the amount of body weight you’re moving and ease pressure on shoulders and wrists. Stand slightly more than arm’s length away from a wall. Lean forward; place palms on the wall at chest height. Heels will be off the floor. Bend elbows and lower chest. Then straighten arms.
Legs and Glutes
You need lower-body strength for getting into and out of the car, standing up from the couch, and climbing stairs.
Try chair stands. Doing squats with your body weight supported during part of the exercise takes stress off the knees. Sit toward the edge of a chair, feet hip-width apart. Lean forward slightly and press through heels to stand. Then slowly sit down. To make it easier, place a cushion or folded blanket on the seat; the higher the seat, the less range of motion.
All movement originates from the core, so building back and abdominal muscles will help you power through your day.
Try seated arm & leg lift: If getting to the floor to do crunches or planks is difficult for you, this move is a good alternative for strengthening your abdominal and back muscles. Sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor and arms at your sides. Simultaneously raise right foot and left arm. Slowly lower and repeat with opposite arm and leg.
Midback and Shoulders
Targeting these areas helps you stand taller and makes activities such as vacuuming and gardening easier.
Try seated rows: This seated version protects the lower back. Holding light dumbbells (or soup cans, water bottles, or no weight at all), sit in a chair with arms at your sides extended. Lean forward as far as possible from the hips. Squeeze shoulder blades, bend elbows, and pull hands toward hips, elbows pointing behind you. Then slowly release.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the April 2021 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.
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