By Bentz Tozer, Jr., B.S., CPT
Agility is an important component of fitness that is often forgotten and becomes increasingly more important as we age. The definition of agility is the ability to change the direction of the body in an efficient and effective manner. This requires balance (the ability to maintain equilibrium when stationary or moving), speed (the ability to move all or part of the body quickly), strength (the ability of the muscles to overcome resistance) and coordination (the ability to control the movement of the body in cooperation with the body’s senses).
You can easily improve agility and mobility by incorporating exercise into your daily routine. According to the Mayo Clinic, bones and muscles gradually shrink as we age, bone density declines and muscle strength weakens. Regular exercise will slow this gradual shrinking of bones and muscles and improve your overall mobility, leading to a better quality of life.
One of the biggest challenges for seniors is maintaining physical balance. If you’ve ever noticed an older person “shuffle” along, not lifting their feet very high, it may be because they are not confident in their ability to keep their balance if one foot is completely off the floor.
Strength training exercises are one of the best ways to improve balance. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 12-month study conducted on postmenopausal women at Tufts University demonstrated 1 percent gains in hip and spine bone density, 75 percent increases in strength and 13 percent increases in dynamic balance with just two days per week of progressive strength training. The control group had losses in bone, strength and balance. Strength-training programs can also have a profound effect on reducing risk for falls, which translates to fewer fractures. Another study in New Zealand in women 80 years of age and older showed a 40 percent reduction in falls with simple strength and balance training.
According to the National Aging Council, 1 in 3 seniors above age 65 and 1 in 2 seniors over age 80 will fall at least once this year. This is dangerous and can have a drastic effect on living independently. Balance can be improved fairly quickly with simple exercises such as standing on one leg. Simply lift one leg for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch and balance on the other foot, working toward balancing for one minute per foot. Another good exercise is standing up from a sitting position and vice versa. Focus on maintaining good posture and distribute your weight evenly on both feet. Work toward being able to stand up without using your arms to push yourself up and being able to sit down without reaching for the arm of the chair – or without “falling” into the seat.
Spring has arrived and exercising outside provides many opportunities to get more mobile and improve agility. Warm sunny days make it possible to walk outside. A walking path that twists and turns, changes terrain (for example, sidewalk to grass, grass to gravel) or has some hills will help the body become more agile as it works to adapt to these changes.
There are many outdoor activities that can be done as the weather turns warmer. Playing golf, trail hiking and swimming are all excellent choices. Swimming is a particularly great exercise because the water provides resistance, forcing the muscles to work, but it also prevents wear and tear on the joints. Many local pools offer aquatics classes (like water aerobics) – look for one that’s done in an outdoor pool, and you’ll get the added benefit of fresh air and sunshine.
Biking is also a great exercise for working on balance. Find a local bike trail or bike-through park. You’ll get a fantastic cardiovascular and leg workout.
Anybody, young or old, can improve their agility and mobility with proper training.