Spring Back into Shape—Safely, with These Tips

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three women in workout clothes

Tips for Improving Muscle Tone for Seniors

April Fool’s Day has come and gone. But there’s nothing funny about what a year of lockdown has done to our physical shape. Many of us have gained weight, but for older adults there’s been another issue: not just weight gain, but loss of muscle tone.

Loss of muscle tone (or, medically speaking, muscle mass) in seniors will show up differently depending on the person. If you’re active, you may notice you get winded much more quickly than you did in years past. Or you may notice your parent now finds it harder to do even the simplest things, such as pushing the chair away from the table or rising from their seat. So although in spirit we’re all ready to spring back to all our previous activities, our bodies might not be ready.

Still, with spring in full bloom, now is a perfect time to get moving again. At Five Star Senior Living, with vaccinations continuing and reopening efforts under way, residents are now taking advantage of weekly reconditioning classes to get back in shape so they can return to the activities they love. But a word of caution: After so many months of reduced physical activity, it’s important to reengage with exercise gradually and not overdo.

“I tell my clients, ‘You’re a different person now,’” says Jessica Lime, a personal trainer with Ageility, Five Star Senior Living’s rehabilitation and fitness training partner. Compared to a year ago, Jessica warns, “We’re not as flexible as we were and our bodies are probably not as efficient, causing us to fatigue quickly.”

With that in mind—and whether your plan is to start going for longer walks, jogging, running, cycling, taking yoga or some other spring shape-up regimen—here are some tips from the experts at Ageility.

How to make reconditioning and regaining muscle tone as rewarding as possible for you: 

  1. Be honest with yourself. Look back over the year and admit if you developed what John Wheeler, a physical therapist and Ageility’s fitness director, calls “COVID habits.” Did you sit in front of the TV and snack away? Stop exercising because your gym closed or you just didn’t feel like it? Be honest, but don’t despair. And don’t feel guilty. You were definitely not alone!
  2. Write it down. Put your goals on paper. “Make small, attainable goals,” Jessica advises. As you work toward your goals, note your progress. Did you go from ten touch-toes to twenty? One-mile walk to two? Great! Write it down. “The point is to celebrate little victories that motivate you to keep on going,” Jessica adds.

Here’s another great tip to help reach your goals. “Come up with a motivational word for the week,” says Jessica, words like “energized,” “stronger” or “grandkids.” Post that word on your refrigerator door. “Then use that word in a sentence each day,” says Jessica, noting that doing so makes the word—and your goal—more real. And more likely. 

  1. Ease into it. Don’t overdo. Consider starting with gentle chair exercises such as sitting and stretching to your toes. Try this: Sit up straight in a chair, feet firmly on the floor, and gently roll your head clockwise in a circle several times. Keep your shoulders down. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Gently switch directions, rolling your head counterclockwise for a few circles.
  2. Listen to your body. Your body is very good at telling you when it’s had enough. Heed one of the golden rules of physical therapy and if you feel pain, stop. Better, Jessica says, to increase exercise activity slowly, steadily and in moderation. Muscle soreness, not pain, is normal. If you experience muscle soreness, let your muscles rest two or three days before resuming your routine. 

Kathryn Cunningham, Fitness Programming and Training Specialist at Ageility, adds, “For people who have been inactive, nothing is going to feel as fluid as it was. Be mindful if you’re feeling stiff or lack flexibility. Especially if you’ve had surgery or rehab and haven’t seen a health professional in a while, consider getting a reevaluation from your physician or physical therapist.”

  1. Remember to hydrate. “Always keep a bottle of water nearby when you work out,” Jessica says. “Hydration is key and often overlooked.” In fact, the human body loses water all day long, and perspiration and breathing harder during exercise only accelerate that loss. According to the Cleveland Clinic, losing even 1.5% of your body’s fluids can lead to dehydration, with symptoms ranging from a simple headache to life-threatening heat stroke.
  2. Don’t bounce! Stretching to touch one’s toes is a great, simple exercise to build flexibility—but if you bounce your fingertips while trying to touch the tips of your toes, you can do more damage than good. “Better to stretch down as far as you comfortably can and hold, then stand back up,” Jessica says, adding that bouncing can actually damage muscle tissue.
  3. Give it time. Both Jessica and Kathryn stress that a new you doesn’t happen overnight. A good reconditioning protocol can take two to three months to yield results. That’s actually a fraction of the time we’ve all spent in lockdown. Undoing all that stiffness and lack of energy in just 60 days after a year of shelter-in-place can seem like a bargain.

And the payoffs are worth it! You drop a pant size. You can look forward to joining a walking club again. You can lift your grandchild when you see them. All because you set some goals, eased into an exercise routine, took precautions, listened to your body, and didn’t rush things. Sounds like a good deal.

Throughout April, all Five Star locations are offering reconditioning classes, created by Ageility, to help our residents get their bodies back in action again. Do you know someone who could benefit from a lifestyle that includes regular reconditioning?

 

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