By Dr. Wayne Westcott and Rita La Rosa Loud
If you do not like to exercise, especially at a gym, we have some good news for you. There are many very simple exercises that you can do standing or sitting in your own living space that are highly effective for helping you with posture, balance, coordination, walking and other physical activities that you perform on a daily basis. As an example, try this basic breathing exercise, either standing or sitting on the edge of a chair.
Place one hand on top of your chest while your other hand rests on your belly. Keep you upper body relaxed with shoulders down and away from your ears. Breathe in for a count of 4, and fill your lungs with air. Hold your breath for just a moment as you hold your chest in this uplifted position. Breathe out for a count of 4. As you do so, try to maintain a tall torso position and draw in your abdominal muscles. Repeat this breathing exercise 3 or 4 times. You may increase the counts gradually from 4 to 8. You should feel taller, lighter, and quite refreshed.
To relieve tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders next is a straight forward shoulder stretch exercise. While seated or standing, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Pause for 3 to 5 seconds then slowly lower your shoulders down into a relaxed position. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times.
To train for balance try this calf raise exercise. Stand behind a sturdy chair. With both hands, hold onto the back of the chair for support. Place your legs a little more than hip-width apart, or closer together. The further you move your legs apart the easier it will be, the closer they are, the more challenging the exercise becomes. Slowly rise up on your toes, liftinging your heels as high as possible, pause to tighten your calf muscles then slowly lower your heels back down to the floor. Repeat lifting and lowering 10-15 times. To make this more challenging, do this exercise one leg at a time while holding on with both hands, or, hold on to the chair with one hand as you lift and lower both heels. As you become more proficient, progress to placing your hands on your hips as you lift and lower your heels.
Having strong legs are key to keeping you mobile. An excellent exercise to strengthen your thighs and buttocks, is the wall squat. All you need is some wall space. Stand facing away from the wall. Support the upper and lower back against the wall. Depending on your fitness level, place your hands by your sides, on your hips, or extended in front. Position your legs hip-width apart and place your feet about 6 to 12 inches away from the wall. Focus ahead as you slide down the wall. Lower your hips slowly as far as comfortable (but not lower than your knees, keeping knees in line with your ankles. Pause briefly before you slide back up to the upright position. You may repeat this exercise by doing 3 sets of 3-5 repetitions with a 10-15 second rest between sets.
Consider these practical tips when preparing your body for physical activity: (1) Warm-up by walking or marching in place for 3-5 minutes; (2) Move slowly during both up and down actions as slow, controlled movements are safer and more effective than fast, uncontrolled movements. (3) contract your abdominal muscles to protect and support your spine, and (4) Breathe throughout.
Incorporate a few practical exercises each day and you will improve your posture, tighten your core (abdominals/lower back), strengthen your muscles, enhance your balance, and even reduce stress. The best part is you can do this in the comfort of your home.
About the authors
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., and Susan La Rosa Loud, B.S., direct the Community Health and Fitness Center at Quincy College. Dr. Westcott consults for the South Shore YMCA and has authored 28 books on physical fitness.