Mobility is your body’s ability to move freely. When we age, our bodies go through so many physiological changes that can leave our muscles and bones weakened. Our ability to complete everyday tasks become more difficult, and this can have a lasting impact on the rest of our bodily functions.
Today, senior mobility is becoming a widely talked about subject due to the number of older people who end up in the hospital as a result of a fall or an inability to help themselves. Once your mobility fails, it sets off a chain reaction that can leave you relying on the care of others sooner than you anticipated. While there’s nothing that can be done to stop us from getting older, there is something we can do to keep our bodies working strongly for as long as it can.
Exercise! Physical exercise is one of the best ways to combat the physical and mental toll that a loss of mobility can have. In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of mobility and why it’s important to “keep it up to code”, how mobility changes as we get older, and we’ll review some exercises that will help you improve your mobility as a senior.
NOTE: Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise.
Why Mobility is Important?
When the mobility in our bodies starts to fade, it’s common to see daily and easy to do tasks become more challenging to do on your own. By incorporating physical exercises into your daily routine, you help your body slow down the aging process and mobility restrictions in your bones and muscles. Doing these exercises early on can keep your mobility working strongly for a longer time.
As we get older, it's important that our bodies maintain their ability to move for as long as they can. Mobility determines and shows how well your body is aging. When it fails, it sort of has this domino effect on the rest of your body’s functions. Slowly, but surely, your independent life becomes harder because your body can no longer do the things it used to.
In 2013, a clinical review from geriatricians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham was done to study the positive impact that physical exercises have on senior mobility and to urge physicians to make their patients’ mobility a top priority. The results of this study concluded that daily physical activity is vital for promoting healthy aging.
For people 65 and older, maintaining good mobility can reduce the risk of falls and accidents that can lead to serious injury. This is particularly important considering that falling is the most common accident that can result in a head injury or broken bones. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 out of 4 seniors falls every year, and just one fall greatly increases your chances of falling again.
Falling is a serious and rapidly growing problem that exists for many seniors today. The impact of falling and hurting yourself can take a toll on your mentality, just like it can on your body. Falling can make you feel like you need to drastically adjust your daily routine to prevent falling again. So, instead of living freely, you, understandably, place yourself in a safety bubble out of fear that you’ll hurt yourself.
Not only is falling hard on the body, but it can also be costly. The CDC reports that in 2015, the cost of people hospitalized from falling and hurting themselves was more than $50 billion. The main cause, or risk factor, of older people falling, is lower body weakness.
Physical exercise will allow you to stay in control of your body’s mobility, which will eliminate the biggest risk factor of falling. You’ll increase your body’s strength, endurance, balance, and coordination, and you won’t have to forfeit your daily activities to keep yourself safe and healthy.
How Mobility Decreases with Age
As we get older, our bodies undergo physiological changes that can affect our ability to perform our daily activities and hobbies. From as early as age 30 onward, our bodies initiate a process that results in reduced muscle and bone mass. It also decreases our bone density and causes our joints to stiffen up occasionally.
There are subtle signs that can tell you what’s going on with your body before it becomes a serious problem. Difficulty standing up and sitting down, struggling to walk up and down 10 steps, and removing yourself from social settings to avoid too much movement are all indications of body weakness and decreasing mobility. Here’s how it works:
- Muscle loss can begin as early as 30 years old. At the same time, bone density peaks, but once we reach about 40 years old, we slowly start to lose bone mass.
- After 30, we start losing about 3-8% of our muscle mass per decade which, in turn, results in a loss of muscle strength.
- Finally, hip flexion starts decreasing by 6-7 degrees per decade. There’s also a notable 5 to 6-degree decrease in shoulder abduction.
Incorporating physical exercise into your daily routine can greatly offset these effects of the changes.
How Exercises Improve Mobility
So far, we’ve gathered that without mobility, you can’t perform the tasks that you usually do, and if your mobility fails, the rest of bodily functions will soon follow suit. We’ve also discussed that with physical exercise, your body and mobility will remain in great shape. Now, let’s take a look at how physical activity is the key to longer-lasting mobility.
First, it’s important to note that flexibility and mobility are NOT the same thing. Mobility combines flexibility and strength to improve your range of motion and get the best out of your workout. There are specific exercises that are designed specifically to help you improve your mobility. These exercises include:
- Flexibility exercises
- Aerobics (endurance)
- Balance exercises
- Strength exercises
Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through a full range of motion freely and without pain. This is important because it allows you to complete every day chores with ease, which makes sense because everything we do, from getting out of bed to going to work, requires some level of flexibility. Without being exercised, your flexibility will deteriorate as you get older. As a result, your mobility becomes impared. Some benefits that come with doing flexibility exercises include:
- Better balance
- Prevents muscle cramps
- Relaxes the muscles
- Makes daily activities easier to do
- Lowers the risk of injury
- Enhances joint health
Flexibility exercises work best if you’re consistent with your workout, push yourself to the limit, and focus on specific exercises that are tailored to your body’s needs. These may include:
- Hip Flexibility Exercise
- Thigh Flexibility Exercise
- Ankle Stretches
- Chest Exercise
- Neck Exercise
- Back Exercise
- Getting up and down on the floor Exercise
Aerobic exercises are any form of sustained physical activity such as swimming, jogging, jumping, etc. The point of these exercises is to build endurance in your arms, legs, and hips, and get more oxygen flowing through your body. Aerobics also increases the blood flow to your muscles which your body will thank you for in the long run.
While you may you want to dive deep into these exercises, it’s important that you take them one step at a time to prevent any injuries or pulled muscles. Before you get started, talk with your doctor to determine which exercises will benefit you the most. Then, as you master these exercises, gradually increase the amount of reps you do and the number of times you complete them in a day. You’ll soon find that you’ll no longer have to rely on other people to assist you with simple daily activities. A few benefits that come with doing aerobics include:
- Longer-lasting independent lifestyle
- Lowers the risk of falls and injuries
- Protects your cognitive function as you get older
- Mood booster
- Helps keep your arteries clear
- Improves blood flow which in turn strengthens the heart
- Can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Strengthens your immune system
- Improves your endurance
By doing aerobics, you’ll keep your muscles strong and build up the stamina needed to complete your everyday activities without fatigue and pain. Some of these exercises may include:
- Taking a walk
- Seated volleyball
Integrating exercises that specifically help improve your balance, into your workout, can make getting up and down a flight of stairs easier, and lower the risk of you falling or tripping over things that are in your way. When most people put together a workout routine, they hardly focus on exercises that can improve their balance. But, because falling is a major cause of injury in older people, and because it’s a tell-tell sign that your mobility is falling below average, you should have a few exercises that’ll help you maintain your balance.
As you progress, your balance based exercises can be modified to challenge yourself and help you accomplish higher goals. These exercises will have you walking confidently and without the fear of breaking a hip. The benefits of doing balance exercises include:
- Enhanced coordination to prevent falling
- Improved brain function as you age
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Fast reaction time to help you grab onto something if you start to fall
What’s great about balance exercises is that if you improve your balance skills, you, in turn, improve your endurance, flexibility, and muscle strength which all work together to prevent falls and increase your mobility. Some balance exercises that you can do include, but are not limited to:
- Heel-to-toe walk exercises
- Standing on one foot
- Balance walk exercises
Strength exercises are a variety of activities that are geared to make your muscles stronger. Having strong muscles, especially as you get older, can improve your quality of life and make simple tasks, like getting out of a chair, easier.
As we age, we experience a loss of muscle mass and strength. This can throw off your flexibility, balance, endurance, and it can lead to chronic diseases that impair your mobility even more. Doing strength exercises can restore these weakened muscles and combat the aging process in our bones and muscles. If you start doing these exercises early on, you offset the effects of getting older before they start. Benefits that come with strength exercises include:
- Combats muscle weakness
- If done consistently, these exercises can preserve bone density and keep you in charge of your independent lifestyle.
- Reduces the risk of Osteoporosis and other chronic diseases
- Manages your weight
- Combats depression
- Helps you sleep better
- Raises your metabolism
- Improves your balance
Studies conducted by Tufts University shows that strength training is one of the best ways to fight off muscle weakness. When combined with aerobics, flexibility, and balance exercises, strength training can also have a major impact on your mental health. Some of these exercises include:
- Arm curl exercise
- Side arm raise
- Front arm raise
- Chair dip exercise
- Knee curl exercise
- Leg raises
- Chair stand exercise