By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.
Interestingly, my family, my friends and my patients seem to talk more and more these days about aging. My friends tell me about their knee replacements, my family about their hip replacements, my patients about their cataract surgeries.
In addition to those woes, another aspect of life they seem to have in common is that they’re not as muscular and not as strong as they were in their youth. Research into this matter has consistently shown that we tend to lose muscle as we get older, unless we actively work at building muscle and strength. This article will focus on working toward and achieving the goal of muscle tone and strength as we age.
Many people think of strength training as lifting weights in the gym. While this is of course one way to increase strength, it’s not the only method. For those who wish to lift weights in a gym setting, I’m all for that and you can avail yourself of a trainer who can teach you to properly lift the weights with good form, work toward attaining your goals and have a large variety of weights and exercises to choose from.
However, it is not necessary to lift weights, nor have a gym membership, to engage in strength training. I am encouraging everyone to begin some form of strength training and to participate to the degree they are able.
We come in all shapes and sizes and have varying degrees of ability to engage in strength training. Do what you can. Start somewhere.
I’ll discuss five or six basic exercises that take one or two minutes each to accomplish. If you learn how to do these few exercises and pick one or two to do each day, you will find gentle and gradual improvement in your flexibility, strength and overall stamina. Additionally, by fully focusing and concentrating on these exercises and nothing else while you are doing them, you may facilitate increased synaptic functioning in your brain, meaning your focus and concentration may improve.
After all, it is your brain that is initiating and coordinating these exercises. The more you fully focus on them, the more you exercise your brain.
Lastly, your heart doesn’t know if you are lifting weights or jogging; it works harder to move those muscles. Strength training is also good for your heart.
Squats: If you can stand up straight, slowly bend your knees and squat down, you have done a squat. Ten to 12 of those will take less than one minute to do and help with muscle tone, balance and lower body strength. If you need to hold onto a chair to do them, please do so. If you can do only one, do one. Do one every day for one week, then try two.
Dead lifts: This is basically standing up straight and bending over to touch your toes. Again, 10 to 12 of these will take less than one minute if you take your time and use good form.
Push-ups: I think most people know what a push-up is. If you can do one push-up with good form, do that daily for one week. Then, each week, add one more until you can do 10 to 12 or however many you can do. This is another excellent strength builder and helps with concentration. If and when you can do 10 push-ups, do them slowly.
If you can’t do a floor push-up, start by leaning against the wall and push away from the wall. Gradually, step back further from the wall until you can do a floor push-up.
Stairs: Walking up stairs in an excellent way to build up leg strength. One or two flights will increase your heart rate as well as strengthen your quads and glutes.
Tricep dips: Using a sturdy chair, sit on the edge of the chair, place your hands behind you and move forward off the chair. Slowly lower yourself so that your triceps are letting you down and then lift yourself back up. If you can do this four or five times, you will strengthen the backs of your arms.
These are just a few exercises that will help you get stronger and feel better. Please start where you can, do what you can and be persistent. Improvements happen slowly and are rewarding and enduring.
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.