Tips & Tools on How to Strengthen Leg Muscles in Elderly
To begin, have you ever wondered, why do the elderly lose balance? A healthy and active lifestyle is essential for seniors. However, at times it becomes quite tricky for older adults to exercise due to weakened muscles. The good news is, there are numerous low-intensity leg exercises seniors can try that can immensely improve muscle strength, mobility, and independence. Besides enhancing leg muscle strength, some of these exercises can also be quite beneficial for the lower back and other body parts.
Calf exercises are meant to strengthen one’s calf, resulting in improved mobility, especially over elevations and stairs. For senior-friendly calf exercise, have the older person standing on a woodblock for elevation and holding onto a chair for support. In this position, have them rise on their toes for a few seconds and then lower. Repeat the exercise five times. Try positioning the heels past the edge of the woodblock and then drop the heels onto the floor to fully stretch the calves. Hold on in this position for a few seconds and then relax.
Alternatively, if the older person has sufficient muscle strength to carry out calf exercises without requiring additional support, let them give it a go. To do this, simply ask them to stand on their toes without their heel touching the ground for a few seconds. Doing this releases any tension they might have built up in the calf muscles and strengthens the lower leg. The result is an immense improvement in gait and balance.
The last calf exercise routine you can try starts with the elderly person sitting on a chair. Ensure that the person’s back is well pressed against the chair’s backrest. With both legs perpendicular to the chair, lift your two heels upwards with the toes firmly planted on the floor. Hold this position for about three seconds before assuming your normal position. Repeat the exercise 20 times.
Elderly people can try squats while standing against a wall or sitting on a chair. This activity is meant to strengthen one’s thighs and buttocks while improving knee and hip flexibility. Additionally, regular motions can help one attain a better range of motion. When using a chair, have the elderly person lower their entire body by bending both knees and hips until they are almost at a fully seated position. You should then have them resume the standing position. To enhance the exercise’s effectiveness, have the senior repeat this activity about ten times.
Alternatively, the elderly person can stand with their back against a wall and then bend their knees and lower their body gradually until they are in a squatting position. Once in this position, rise gradually to the initial standing position. Repeat the exercise five to ten times. Keep in mind that adults with significantly weak muscles should only do half-squats, during which one only gets to the middle of the cycle.
A significant number of older adults often develop arthritis in the hips, reducing the ease with which they can move freely. Performing hip exercises can help restore strength on a person’s hips, buttocks, and thighs. For the most basic hip exercise, have the senior lie on one side and on a completely flat surface. If they are lying on their right, have them bend their right knee and hip for additional support. They should then lift the left leg as high as they can and hold the position for five seconds, after which they should lower the leg back. Have them repeat this exercise five times.
Please remember that some medical conditions can make hip exercises quite challenging. In such a case, ensure the senior does not lift their legs too high. The results from a strengthened hip are, however, worth every effort.
Here is a look at some common leg-raise exercises that can be immensely beneficial for seniors.
Front Leg Raises
Leg raises are meant to strengthen a senior’s thighs, hips, buttocks, and lower back. Once the muscles in these parts are strengthened, the senior attains better gait, balance, and movement. For a basic leg raise exercise, stand behind a chair and on its side, and hold it for support. Lift your outer leg sideways while keeping it straight from heel to toes. Hold this position for five seconds with your back held straight. Once done, move the leg back, still straightened at the heel to toe. Repeat the process severally, making sure to alternate legs.
Back Leg Raises
Back leg raises are recommended for seniors trying to strengthen their lower back and bottom. To do a back leg raise:
- Stand behind a chair and slowly lift your left leg back without pointing your toes or bending your knees.
- Hold the position for a few seconds and repeat it using the other leg.
- Repeat the exercise 15 times per leg.
Side Leg Raises
For the side leg raise, stand behind a chair with both your feet slightly apart. Lift your left leg sideways while keeping your toes pointed forward and your back straight. After a few seconds, lower the leg slowly and repeat the exercise 10 times for each leg. You can also try a variant of this exercise known as a leg curl. In this one, you would have to hold onto the chair for support, place your weight on the left leg, and then bend the right knee as far as you can. You should then alternate the legs and repeat 10 times for each leg.
The leg curl is quite effective at improving your overall posture and balance and strengthening your hamstring muscles.
Exercise Equipment for the Elderly
Besides trying some basic equipment-free leg exercises, seniors can also use exercise equipment to make certain activities more fun, effective, or safer. Here is a look at some of the options one can consider.
Exercise balls are designed to improve one’s balance while engaging their core muscles. When getting one, ensure it’s made of non-slip materials to prevent the probability of a slip-and-fall accident when using it. For seniors with immensely low muscle strength, they should use the exercise ball against a wall for added support. Most balls come with a pump so that you can easily inflate them to the desired level.
A stability ball is a simple yet effective exercise device designed to strengthen a senior’s core muscles. Sitting on a stability ball improves one’s balance and can be viewed as sufficient exercise. However, additional exercises can be carried out on a stability ball.
As a person gets older, some of their most common complaints include unaligned spines, rounded postures, and backaches. These problems often arise from reduced muscle strength. A pull-down machine is designed to alleviate these problems. To use the machine, have the older adult sit down and pull a bar either in front or behind their body. The resistance and weights can be adjusted depending on the senior’s strength.
A yoga mat is one of the essential workout tools any senior should have. This simple mat lets older adults perform low-intensity exercises while lying down, kneeling, or standing. Additionally, the yoga mat also comes in quite handy for stretching exercises such as yoga and Pilates.
Exercise peddlers are small portable devices designed to mimic the feeling of being on an actual bike. To use one, the older person places their feet on the pedals and begins to move them using a cycling motion. The pedal resistance can be easily adjusted to suit the senior’s muscle strength.
The elliptical is a great exercise tool for older adults seeking to improve endurance and enhance their overall balance. The device lets one do exercises that are more or less a hybrid of walking and skiing but on a much lower intensity. The tool comes with arm levers to enhance the senior’s safety during use. The elliptical has easily adjustable resistance levels to help build muscle and increase or decrease the heart rate during exercise.
Old age inevitably comes with significantly reduced muscle strength. However, seniors do not have to experience the drawbacks that come with weakened muscles. By regularly engaging in the low-impact exercises outlined in this guide, one can have immense improvements in their muscle strength, balance, and endurance.