Strength and balance training are a major focus of my life’s work. Most of my clients ask me to set up a home program so that they can continue their progress on their own. After doing this for over 27 years, I know that only a small percentage continue with their programs. Like those on diets, persistence is difficult. Why? Because doing the exercises is easy to do, but also easy not do. Like Jeff Olson says in his great book, The Slight Edge, “Little mundane daily decisions that we make will not have an immediate effect on our health. If I eat that cheeseburger today, it won’t kill me. I’ll get back on my diet tomorrow. If I don’t exercise today, it won’t have an effect on my health, so I’ll just pick it up again tomorrow.”
Well, for many folks, that tomorrow keeps occurring, and before they know it, it’s been months, then dropped altogether. They then feel like they’ve failed, and don’t even try again until a serious need (what I call a need-to or have-to) forces them to restart, or consider themselves a failure. And that’s a sad, hopeless place to be.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a program that is easier to adhere to but still provides great benefits in strength and balance, and this part is key. You have to do these tasks anyway, because they’re part of your life’s daily routine, and, they don’t require 30 minutes or more to do. These routine mundane activities require very little to almost no time out of your day! Only some thinking with your brain, which is always a good thing. A major focus is taking unproductive time, and making it productive for you!
So here’s my program. I call it The Dance With Life.
Let’s say that you’re in line at the grocery store or pharmacy or wherever. You’re standing there, looking at the tabloids, or staring off into space. Why not do a little mini-workout? Check your posture-are you standing up straight? Tighten your stomach and butt muscles. Nobody realizes that you’re doing it, but you’re getting an exercise session in. No extra time expended.
You’re sitting at a red light. Rather than zoning out, do a body check. Pull your head back over your shoulders (most people have their heads way forward, almost into the steering wheel). I have a little trick I do to keep my head up-I adjust the level of the rear view mirror so that I need to keep better posture. Not great for your neck and back. Relax your shoulders and hands, elbows should be bent and hands at 9 and 3. So many of us grip the steering wheel with white knuckles. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, tighten your thighs and your stomach. You’ve done another mini-workout. Now I’m not asking you to be oblivious to traffic or the stop light, always be aware. But there is plenty of time to get this little workout in.
My personal favorite (for strength and low back pain relief) is the proper way of getting up and down out of a chair. One of the most frequent activities that we do daily is move from one sitting position to another. I counted how many times I got up and down twice, and the total averaged out to 78. 78 opportunities to gain strength, which amounts to hundreds in a week! Again, not adding any time to your day. The caveat here is to get up and down properly, using good body mechanics. Try this: Scoot forward on the chair, take a leg underneath the chair (the other one forward), bend at the hip, and push with the leg under the chair. When you go to sit, reverse the action: Take a leg back so that it’s under the chair (the calf should touch the front of the chair), stick your butt back (like you’re trying to butt open a door) and slowly lower into the chair. Note: Not all chairs are created equal, recliners and couches are not good ones to do this technique on, kitchen chairs are great. Getting up this way will take the stress off the back, and engage the right muscles for the job; the legs and butt muscles. If you find it too difficult at first, as many do, prop the seat with a pillow so that your hips are higher than your knees. Also, alternate legs as much as possible-we all have a weak side and a strong side.
I realize habits are hard to change, especially ones that are in the subconscious. You may only be able to remember 10% of the time, but keep it up. Practice makes perfect.
Rather than continue with other tips, I’ll do so in a future blog. This one is too long.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.