“Many older adults isolate and become sedentary, which is why they have trouble walking and moving when the time comes,” explains Brittany Ferri, PhD, CPRP, an occupational therapist at Medical Solutions Barcelona. “The best way to keep your motion is by practicing, meaning walking, exercising, stretching, and doing anything that keeps you active.”
In particular, mobility exercises can be an essential component to increasing longevity and quality of life, especially for older adults. These are the moves that target the range of motion in our joints (not to be confused with flexibility, which is about increasing length in our muscles). Having greater mobility helps to prevent falls, promote balance and coordination, and maintain independence later into life by allowing us to function better in everyday activities.
How can mobility exercises improve longevity?
Mobility exercises can allow us to stay more active, which helps regulate blood pressure, improves circulation, keeps joints and muscles flexible, and assists with balance, explains Dr. Ferri. “This gives older adults more quality of life for longer.”
By helping us maintain adequate physical strength and balance, mobility exercises keep us safer and more independent, helping us "navigate [our] environment more easily and freely,” says Dr. Ferri. “This helps seniors have control over the activities they want to participate in.”
What are the most crucial parts of mobility?
It can be daunting to feel like you have to perform an involved fitness routine for every single body part and joint. But Dr. Ferri says that focusing on just a few key areas can be a great starting place.
“Hip motion is something that impacts walking, which is why hip fractures and arthritis of the hip (leading to hip replacements) can be so debilitating,” she notes. “When older adults have sufficient motion in the hips, they can walk with a wide base of support, which helps them prevent falls and keep their balance better.”
Dr. Ferri also says the back and core are important areas for improved functional living. Both help us walk upright, which means our eyes will be positioned properly to scan the environment for hazards that might otherwise make us trip and fall. “Core strength also helps relieve back pain that might limit someone's ability to walk properly and with good postural symmetry,” she says.
6 best mobility exercises for longevity and healthy aging
Try to do these moves for the hips, back, and core as many days per week as you can, taking your time and focusing on proper form. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
1. Tightrope walking
This challenging mobility exercise improves your balance and the pacing of walking.
- Find a line on the floor (either along floorboards/tiles or at the edge of a large rug) and walk slowly with one foot in front of the other along the length of it, keeping your arms out to each side for balance.
- Take 20 to 25 steps, then turn around.
2. Tree pose
Taken from yoga, this pose increases stability to preserve your balance, posture, and mobility.
- Stand tall with both feet next to each other with a table or countertop nearby to hold onto if you need to.
- Lift one leg up slightly and turn the foot outward to rest it on the inner edge of the opposite thigh or shin.
- Hold this pose for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch sides.
3. Lying down marches
This is a great mobility exercise for the core and hips. The focus should be on controlling the movement, moving slowly, and drawing your belly button inward to keep your spine neutral.
- Lie on your back with your hips flexed so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor, your knees are up in the air bent to 90 degrees, and your shins are parallel to the ground.
- Engage your abs while you slowly lower one leg towards the ground, maintaining the bend in your knee.
- Gently tap your foot on the floor and then lift the leg back up to the starting position using only your core muscles.
- Switch legs, alternating sides for 16 to 20 reps total (8 to 10 per leg).
4. Foot taps
This move improves balance and coordination, while increasing the mobility of the hip joints.
- Hold onto a table or countertop if needed for balance.
- Move one leg out to the side (as if splaying your legs) and tap your foot on the ground.
- Return the leg to the starting position next to your other foot.
- Rest for 1 to 2 seconds then repeat on the other side.
- Alternate between feet for 10 repetitions in total.
As you get stronger, you can go faster and increase the number of reps.
5. Standing marches
This mobility exercise improves core strength, coordination, and postural symmetry, and can support stable walking.
- Hold onto a table or countertop.
- Engage your abs, and bend one hip and knee to lift that leg up toward your chest like you are marching in place.
- Alternate legs, bringing each knee up as high as you can comfortably.
- Complete 20 repetitions, moving with control.
6. Single-leg stance
This stability exercise builds hip, core, and leg strength as well as balance.
- Hold onto a table or countertop.
- Lift one leg up by bending your knee and hip.
- Hold for 10 seconds and then lower your leg.
- Rest for 10 seconds.
- Repeat five more times on the same leg, then move to the next leg.
Remember, staying active and moving your body can be the key to staying spry and healthy. Even spending a few minutes a day being active can make a big difference.
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