6 Easy Routines for Strength and Balance

REPRINT: Senior Planet: Aging with Attitude
AUTHOR: Jill Caryl Weiner
DATE: September 27, 2013

Moving through our days gets harder as we age. Bending and stretching, stepping off curbs, even navigating the furnishings in a room – many of us don’t perform these movements as efficiently or gracefully when we’re older, and some of us end up hurting ourselves. We might even fall.

But with the right exercises, you can protect your body and enjoy moving more.

“It isn’t just about getting in shape. It’s about issues of vitality and survival,” Dancer-fitness expert Celeste Carlucci says.

Carlucci was running a fitness program for young moms when she decided to offer the tagalong grandparents a class of their own. She quickly discovered that routines geared to the issues dancers are most concerned about – alignment, strength, balance and coordination – can open up a whole new world of movement for people over 60 and also help prevent falls later.

Choreographing Your Everyday Life

Carlucci’s older students were having some movement issues; their old ways of doing things no longer worked. They needed to learn new sequences for everyday challenges like getting up off of the ground after playing with their grandkids or picking up something that had fallen on the floor and putting it on a high shelf. Some had trouble with arthritis in their shoulders or knees.

“I had to figure out how my movement background could make them more graceful and efficient in their daily lives,” said Carlucci.

She enlisted the help of an occupational therapist friend, and together they designed targeted exercises and movements that use a dancer’s formula for choreographing life’s routine movements, as well as building the strength, alignment, coordination and balance to prevent falls.

Ten years later, Carlucci works with about 200 students a week in her program Fall Stop…MOVE STRONG in New York City. Younger students in their 50s join the class as a preventative method so that by the time they’re in their 90s they’re at less risk for falling.

We asked Carlucci to show us some of the exercises she teaches in her program.

6 Move Strong Exercises

All of these exercises are great for alignment, strength, coordination and balance.
If you’re concerned about your balance, start the standing exercises while holding on to a sturdy chair or counter. Talk to your physician before beginning any other exercise program.

Stepping Over The Suitcase

A strength, balance and coordination exercise. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides and do 10 reps with you left foot. Be sure to lift your knees up high.

  1. Stand with your feet together, hands on hips.
  2. Lift your right foot up, to the side, and…
  3. down – as if you’re stepping over a large suitcase. (Move slowly to maintain your balance!)

Windshield Wiper

A seated leg-strengthening exercise for the adductors and abductors. Repeat each movement 10 times.

  1. Sit tall with your buttocks on the edge of the chair, legs together, hands on the outside of your knees. Pull your navel toward the spine to engage your abdominal muscles.
  2. Open your knees and legs to the sides, resisting with your hands.
  3. Move your hands to the inside of your knees and squeeze knees close together while resisting with hands.

Reach Down and Reach High

A placement and coordination exercise. Use this balletic movement every time you have to bend down and pick something up or reach up to a high shelf.

  1. Put one foot behind the other and reach down to pick something off the floor. This provides a strong stance. The front foot will keep you from losing your balance and the back foot will catch you to prevent a dangerous fall.
  2. Bend both knees as you bend down.
  3. Now reach high to place something in a cupboard: Place one foot behind the other when reaching up with straight legs to provide balance.

Pump The Gas

Try this when you get up in the middle of the night or when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time.

  1. Sit up tall on the edge of your bed or chair.
  2. Point and flex your feet 5 times to get your blood flowing to prevent dizziness and possibly fainting.

Stop it

A sharp staccato lunge forward with a mental picture of stopping activates muscles that help to stop a fall. Repeat 10 times, alternating legs. Each time you stop, say “STOP” out loud. This trains your muscles and mind to catch you if you trip.

  1. Hold onto a firm surface for support with one hand (a kitchen counter or sturdy chair works).
  2. Lunge forward with one foot and arm extended forward…
  3. STOP, return to starting position.
  4. Repeat with the other leg.

Strike a Pose

If it’s good enough for Madonna, it’s good enough for us!

  1. Do 10 sharp and strong freestyle moves in different directions. Anything you want to do is fine.
  2. Make them big to allow you to move with expression and regain confidence. Have fun!