Get Strong: A Little Fitness Challenge
Back in the days before the pandemic, I used to blog quite a bit about fitness. Trying to make it . . . palatable for you. Hoping to entice you to . . . work at it. Not because we need to look a certain way (we don't) or fit into a smaller size of pants (unnecessary), but because, ultimately, I want us all to be strong, rather bad-assy old people.
I think we all should want this. If we think about it.
Five years before my mom passed away, she broke her ankle quite badly . . . and I was her caretaker. It was an eye-opening experience for me -- and it changed my entire approach to fitness. My mom was 75 when she fell off the counter stool in my kitchen and broke her ankle. She was active and in fairly good shape (or so I thought) at the time. She took care of her health and watched her diet. She went to Zumba Gold classes and swam laps at her local Senior Center a couple of times a week. She was active, enjoyed walking, and had little trouble keeping up with me when we were out and about. But that fall? It exposed the "cracks" in her "foundation!"
For a month after her surgery, she was not able to bear any weight on her injured ankle. None. Which meant . . . hopping (with or without a walker), crutches, or a wheelchair. Sadly, the wheelchair was her only option. Because she wasn't able to hop at all (her feet just . . . couldn't seem to leave the ground). She didn't have the arm strength to maneuver the walker. Or the crutches. She didn't have the core strength get into or out of a chair, the couch, her bed, or to use the bathroom by herself. It was shocking to me (and to her). How could this be??? How could my seemingly able mom . . . turn into a feeble old lady overnight???
I'll tell you, my friends. It was . . . use it or lose it . . . in action!
And it's happening to each of us.
There are all kinds of studies out there explaining that our muscles melt away as we age. You know the drill . . . Our muscles begin to deteriorate in our 30s. When we hit 40, we lose an average of 8% of our muscle mass every decade -- and this continues to accelerate even faster after age 60. Loss of muscle limits mobility, speeds the onset of some diseases, and is linked to premature death. As we age, we need to focus on building and maintaining our strength. If we don't? Well . . . just think about what happened to my mom.
Here I am . . . trying to cajole you into caring about your strength.
I know how hard a sell this is. I know most of you just think I'm a pain in the ass. So this time, I'm going to make it a little more practical, more doable. I'm going to offer you a simple strength fitness challenge once a month. Something basic - but important - that you can do to (on the regular) (like every day) to build your strength. At home. Without a gym. Using no equipment. And without needing to schedule time for a "workout."
Challenge #1: Strengthen Your Lower Body by Doing Body Weight Squats . . . All Day Long
Okay. So that's just a shocking headline to get your attention. But it is the intent of this challenge. And . . . it's actually surprisingly simple to DO body weight squats . . . all day long! Just take a seat (on the couch, in your chair, using the toilet) without using your hands to support you. Every time you sit. And then, rise from your seat (on the couch, in your chair, using the toilet) without using your hands to support you.
If you do this, you're essentially doing body weight squats every time you sit and stand -- and it is a great strengthening exercise. Squats strengthen the muscles in our core and lower body -- our glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. It takes some core strength to sit yourself down and stand yourself up. And, trust me, you're going to need that core strength as you age. You're going to want those lower body muscles to continue to support you -- and especially as you get older. (These muscles also help us with our balance, but we'll talk more about that in a future challenge.)
So give it a try. Whenever it's time to sit or stand today, cross your arms over your chest and force yourself to get up or down without pushing or pulling on anything to do it. When you sit, don't allow yourself to "fall back" onto the chair . . . really think about controlling your body as you sit. Then plant your feet and rise up back up to a standing position. (I mean . . . you've got to get up or down, so why not turn it into an opportunity to build your strength?) If you can't do it, don't give up. Keep practicing! With repetition, you'll develop the strength to be able to do it. And if it's easy for you, that's great! Keep doing it!
Squats all day.
(Future-You will be so grateful.)
Ha! I do this ALL the time (except when my knees are acting up with arthritis...or I'm just stiff). Who knew I was building core strength? Can't wait to hear your next suggestion Kym!
Posted by: Vera | 10/21/2021 at 09:09 AM
I watched similar declines in my own parents and it is mind boggling to see. And my younger brother is relearning how to walk and get out of a seat after a long hospital stay. I am going to pay more attention to how I sit down and get up. I need to be able to put things away in the lower cabinets for a while!
Posted by: Juliann | 10/21/2021 at 09:16 AM
This is a good one and I do practice this all the time. Another one I like is standing on one leg when waiting on line or at other times throughout the day to keep me in balance.
Posted by: Debbie | 10/21/2021 at 09:22 AM
This is something they test you for at the "geezer gym" (which I haven't returned to due to Delta) every 3 months. I have been aware of standing up hands free but I need to be more mindful of it to meet your challenge. I find if engaged my core muscles first then my back doesn't get involved and I can stand up pain free. Thank you for making us aware and helping us age well!
Posted by: Margene | 10/21/2021 at 09:23 AM
Squats are one of the few strength exercises that I actually enjoy! I do a few every time I go to the restroom, it's a good way to get them in all day long.
Posted by: Carole | 10/21/2021 at 11:02 AM
OK OK OK!! I hate it, but I'll do it... and be more aware of HOW.
Posted by: Vicki | 10/21/2021 at 12:25 PM
Oh, man. I've been noticing this in the kitchen lately. In my biceps and wrists, when I tried to flip my Spanish tortilla in the cast iron skillet last night. I couldn't do it! So--yes.
And squats. I LOVE squats. Hate lunges, but I'll do squats all day long. Best place? In the shower while I let my conditioner work!
Hope you're having cozy times Up North this week. :)
Posted by: Carolyn | 10/21/2021 at 12:32 PM
I'm already doing squats as part of my exercise routine, but I never thought of doing them in connect with sitting and standing. I'm now going to make a point so sit and stand hands free as much as possible!
Posted by: Sarah | 10/21/2021 at 12:33 PM
Oh, wait! You're not UP! I'm just catching up...obviously. Hope fall is coming to YOU, then.
Posted by: Carolyn | 10/21/2021 at 12:35 PM
Thank you Kym. Very helpful and very important.
Posted by: Anne | 10/21/2021 at 02:11 PM
Excellent Kym! I also exercise all the time but would never consciously do the chair thing. Thank-you!!!
Posted by: Patty | 10/21/2021 at 02:11 PM
I like this idea! But I will have to make one modification... Sherman will have to move first (which could be a challenge, lol)
Posted by: kat | 10/21/2021 at 05:45 PM
Ok! I’m on board and looking forward to upcoming suggestions. It is amazing how quickly you can lose tone if you stop doing something you normally do. I am just getting back to some daily exercises in addition to daily walking (gets me away from my home desk and out in the neighbourhood)
Posted by: Julia in KW | 10/21/2021 at 05:58 PM
This is such a great idea Kym, thank you! My mom broke her ankle just before she turned 50 and I don't think it was mended very well. She hasn't been the same since (and she has arthritis and had both hips replaced by the time she was 60) ... and she's been my inspiration to keep moving! I know from my older friends that balance gets to be a real issue and lower body and core strength can help so much with that. (as can good glasses ;-)
Posted by: Mary | 10/21/2021 at 06:18 PM
I'm with Vicki in the back of the squat class, agreeing to your challenge but grumbling about it a bit! I know you're right as I saw my father and MiL unable to perform the basic activities of daily living because they lacked any strength at all. I haven't yet been visited by the core strength fairy, so I'll be doing your prescribed body weight squats. Thank you!
Posted by: Bonny | 10/21/2021 at 06:40 PM
Your advice is sound
Posted by: kathy b | 10/21/2021 at 09:56 PM
I love this! Thank be been trying to add small fitness changes and this is perfect!
Posted by: Gale Zucker | 10/22/2021 at 12:31 AM
Thanks for this!!!!! I started a Pilates class this past summer and I have been amazed at how much I needed it. After PT a couple of times for my shoulder which was constantly hurting. I needed to build up those muscles a little more aggressively than the PT was doing. Within a month my shoulder was back to normal. The class has been a blessing. We use the reformers and when the instructor can't be there, I can still go in and work out all those muscles: legs, shoulders, core. The mini-tramp is also a great cardio workout. I have been so thankful to have found a good way to workout without being in the weight room where the men are grunting and groaning.
Posted by: Naomi | 10/24/2021 at 11:31 AM
When we moved I lost my Seniors exercise class with an inspired young instructor whose workout system addressed all these issues - balance, strength, endurance, etc, We all used to walk out of that class happy - and not sore or injured. I am on a hunt to find something similar again. At least I walk 40-50 minutes daily. That’s something at least.
Posted by: Chloe | 10/24/2021 at 02:26 PM
I just started back with some training after a long hiatus. I'm not going to lie, ever since getting my covid vaccines I have had a lot of trouble with my knees. Weird, right? Just today when I was coming down the stairs I started thinking maybe I should take a joint supplement to grease them up a bit....but I am going to give your squat challenge a try, getting in and out of the chair and at work, I sit in a chair more than I like to.
Posted by: Kim | 10/26/2021 at 11:48 AM