There are daily fitness exercises that a person over 40 should not fail to do to promote safety and prevent nagging or even critical injuries.
These are not a fitness program by themselves. These are carefully created exercises designed to protect you from aches, pains, and injuries that will stop you from carrying out—or even wanting to carry out—your own preferred fitness workouts.
AS ALWAYS, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING ANY FITNESS PROGRAM!
You have to take these slowly and give them time. Over the first few weeks and then over your lifetime these fitness exercise will greatly improve your resistance to lower back pain, sciatica, stiffness, and even falling (yes, they will prevent you from falling!).
But you have to give them time, and you have to take it easy.
Overdoing these will create pain rather than taking it away.
In accordance with our fitness motivation tips, don't do these all at once. You'll hate the mini-workout within a week.
Do them one at a time, whenever you think about it. Take 30 seconds on your way to the break room. Find a free moment as your computer's rebooting, and get down and do the side leg raises.
If you get in each of these at least twice a week, which is just 10 loose, individual minutes in a week, you'll be armored for life against many of the aches and pains that made a friend of mine remark, "Growing old is not for wimps."
I don't know if there's an official name for this exercise. I learned it from a doctor almost twenty years ago, and I have since discovered that it fits every qualification for injury prevention to the lower back.
... for more than 80 percent of individuals with subacute or chronic low back pain the cause is weak trunk muscles. [Joseph Kandel, M.D. and David B. Sudderth, M.D., Back Pain: What Works (US Prima Publishing, 1996) p. 1]
Peak Performance newsletter, written primarily by trainers for professional athletes in England, adds trunk muscles help prevent lower back injuries and back pain by having their endurance increased more so than their strength.
This exercise will help the endurance and strength of all your trunk muscles at once ...
As you can see from the video, you simply lie on your back with your legs bent, feet off the ground, and knees pointed straight up in the air. You will also find it easier to do the exercise if your arms are spread out like you're being crucified, which, of course, for some of us is what fitness exercises feel like.
How far your legs are bent will determine how hard the exercise is. If you keep your legs straight, this is a difficult exercise even for healthy 20-year-olds.
Keeping both shoulders on the ground, rotate your trunk so that your knees drop to the right, then rotate back to the beginning position again. Repeat to the left.
This exercise should not be difficult! You should be able to do 10 reps to each side without great effort. If you cannot, then bend your legs more. If you still cannot, drop your knees a little and let your toes touch the ground.
You'll want to slowly and smoothly do 10 to 20 on each side.
If you do this regularly, every day or at least three times a week, then you will find yourself becoming armored against back pain. This is one of the best fitness exercises you can do for your back. I have given this exercise to two 16-year-olds that have had regular back pain, and even they were benefitted.
This is one of those fitness exercises that all us old-timers did in gym class. You know how we loved calisthenics back in the 50's, 60's, and 70's.
This fitness workout will not only help your back endurance, but it will stretch and strengthen your hamstrings and most of the muscles that attach to your hip. Those muscles are the ones that cause almost all sciatica.
You know the drill. Legs spread, arms stretched out to the side.
Keeping your arms straight, bend over, twist a bit, and touch your right hand to your left toes (or knee as the case may be). Straighten back up, repeat to the other side.
While you're very unlikely to hurt yourself with the side leg raises above unless you overdo it, you can hurt yourself doing windmills. DO THEM SLOWLY, UNDER CONTROL, AND DO NOT OVER-STRETCH!!!
Did I say you could hurt yourself doing these?
If you stay under control, there should be no problem.
What in heaven's name is proprioception?
Proprioception is your body's ability to know where all its parts are at. Proprioception can be improved with fitness exercises.
Why should that matter?
Proprioception includes balance. Those with good balance are less likely to fall, which gets more and more important as we get older.
Also, proprioception is exceptionally important for all those who are exercising. All professional trainers know the word, and all make proprioception a priority with their athletes. Soccer players, runners, and other sports players are less likely to twist an ankle or to injure a body part falling if their proprioception is excellent.
You may not be an athlete, but proprioception will make a huge difference in your life that you probably won't notice. It's the injuries you don't get that prove your proprioception has been improved by these fitness exercises.
To do a one-legged calf raise, you simply rise up to your toes while standing on one foot. If you are a typical over-40 adult, you will only be able to do one before you lose your balance.
Your balance will be greatly improved if you pick a solid, immoveable object to look at across the room.
One day, as a teenage daughter was showing me a dance balance exercise, I was wobbling badly. She told me to look at a solid object, which I already knew to do, but it wasn't working. Then she said, "I'm going to look at an unmoving object, too. In other words,I'm not gong to look at you!"
If you have a teenager, ask your teenager to try it. If she is athletic, she'll probably be able to do at least five, maybe more. A dancer or a wide receiver may wonder why you think it's hard to keep your balance.
Comparing your ability to do this with your teenagers will let you know what you've lost over the years. It's not strength; it's proprioception.
These one-legged calf raises will improve your strength as well. Even better, it will strengthen all the supporting muscles of your ankle, helping to prevent ankle sprains and strains. The strengthening of those support muscles will also help prevent shin splints if you're a runner.
The extra calf strength isn't that important. It's just a free bonus.
Do these calf-raises next to a wall. Don't use the wall except as you need to.
Give yourself a few days or even a month, and you'll find that you can do multiple of these fitness exercises.
I shoot for doing at least 15 on each foot. When I could only do one at a time, I simply alternated feet 15 times. Now I alternate in sets of 5, which I can do without a wall for support, and I do more than 15.
The following fitness exercise is actually a yoga stretch. It has some fancy name I don't remember; I just call it a lunge stretch.
This lunge stretch is the exception to my suggestion that twice a week is okay. You ought to do this one as close to daily as possible.
Maybe you can find something to tie it to each day, like right after you pour your morning coffee or something.
There's one muscle that causes a lot of lower back pain, and it does not need to be stronger. It needs to be longer.
Image used with permission
As you can see in the image above, the psoas major runs from the front of your hip to the bottom five vertebrae of your spine.
Do you think that might be able to cause back problems?
It causes many back problems, especially if you sit all day. When you sit, the psoas major shortens to its minimum length. When you stand up, perhaps hours later, you immediately and quickly stretch the psoas to its full length.
Needless to say, that's no way to treat a muscle.
It takes the psoas a while to relax to the length you've stretched it to, and during that time it compresses the vertebrae of your lower back. Do that for years, and the psoas shortens and always compresses your lower back.
No wonder our backs hurt and our disks rupture like squashed jelly doughnuts!
The stretch above is effective at lengthening the psoas major.
It's too hard to give direction in words. You have to look at the picture. But I do have advice. Although you want to bend that front leg as much as possible, keep your body as upright as possible. Your hips can go down, down, down, but your trunk should be straight up and down.
Now, you don't want to lean back, but you do want to curl your body into a figure C as much as possible. It's like you're trying to touch your chest to your belly button. (Don't overdo that. We're only talking about an inch or two of movement.)
An incredible back saver! Do this often, whenever no one is looking!
As a side benefit, it will strengthen the quadriceps (front thigh) of your front leg. If you keep the back foot pointing forward and not off to the side, it will give you an excellent calf stretch as well.
Deep knee bends are another one of those fitness exercises we all did "in the old days" when calisthenics were popular.
Here's why you should still do them now.
You may or may not know this, but your kneecap is not attached to any other bone. It is completely encased in the tendon of your quadriceps muscle, the four-headed muscle that constitutes the entire front of your thigh.
That quadriceps muscle works in sections. When you exercise with your legs almost straight, such as when you're running or walking, you strengthen the upper and outer section of the quadriceps. When you bend your knees deep, you work the vastus medialis, the little teardrop muscle on the inside of your thigh just above the knee. (Look at a picture of any soccer player, and the vastus medialis is easy to pick out.)
When you do all your fitness exercises with your legs almost straight, like almost all joggers or aerobics practitioners do, then the outside of the quadriceps muscles becomes overly strong, and it begins to pull your kneecap to the right.
Like a car that's out of alignment, things begin to rub. Friction builds up, and the result is tissue damage and pain that can be severe.
Deep knee bends strengthen the vastus medialis an realign the kneecap in the groove made for it in the tibia and femur.
Not only do deep knee bends prevent knee pain, but they strengthen your quadriceps, one of the most important muscles in your body. Further, when you do fitness exercises that use large muscles like the quadriceps, your body dumps beneficial hormones into your bloodstream, causing your whole body to benefit. Your metabolism increases, and your body begins trying to get stronger.
To be honest, I hate these, so I almost never do them. Instead, I'll get in a squatting position and walk across the room 2 or 3 times. Another I really like is one-legged squats. I'll sit on a low chair and get up out of it on one leg. When I've been faithful for a while, I have the strength and balance to lower myself back down again. I do as many of those as I can do without hating them.
If you don't overdo it, deep knee bends could transform your psychology, giving you motivation you never knew you had. (You probably have no idea how much of your motivations are controlled by hormones.)
If you overdo it, and you're over 40, you could be sore for a month—no joke. You could also easily grow to hate exercise because massive fitness exercises like deep knee bends dump lactic acid into your bloodstream. It is lactic acid that creates that unpleasant, "I don't like this" feeling that makes you want to quit exercising.