Why do older people often seem wobbly? “As we age, we lose muscle power—the ability to generate force rapidly, not just for jumping or running but for walking with strength and determination,” explains Paul M. Juris, EdD, executive director of the Cybex Institute in Massachusetts. “That loss of power is what’s behind the loss of balance, since keeping your body on an even keel requires not just the sense of where you are in space but also the ability to apply force instantly to reposition yourself.”
If you work on strengthening your calf muscles, which tend to be chronically underchallenged in women’s lives, you’ll help maintain the bounce in your step as well as prevent falls, Juris notes. Other key power muscle groups include the glutes (in the buttocks), hamstrings and hip flexors, says Malachy McHugh, PhD, director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. In addition, strengthening your upper back muscles is crucial for preventing the late-in-life slouch that can sap upper-body strength.
Invest in your future twice a week by doing one (or more, if noted) set of eight to 12 repetitions of these exercises. Note: Use weights that challenge your muscles; for absolute beginners, that might be as little as one to two pounds.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Works upper back/shoulders
Standing, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Rotate arms so your thumbs point back. Then roll your shoulders down; hold for a count of 5. Relax; repeat.
Standing Heel Raise: Works calves
Standing by a chair for support, rise up on your toes with feet together, knees straight and upper body tall. Slowly lower your body halfway down to the floor. Hold for a count of 5, then lower heels to the floor. (If you can’t hold the halfway point, keep your legs straight, body raised.)
Bent-Over Fly: Works triceps/shoulders/upper back
Stand holding a weight in each hand, knees slightly bent, upper body bent forward
at a 45-degree angle. Raise arms out to sides in a winglike movement to shoulder height; lower arms.
Runner’s Lunge: Works quads/hamstrings/glutes/calves
Stand with one leg forward, one leg back. Bend knees and lower your body into a lunge position, keeping knees at a 90-degree angle and lifting your back heel off the floor. Hold for a count of 5. Push back up to start position.
Do a set on each side.
Overhead Press: Works shoulders
Stand holding a weight in each hand with elbows bent, hands at shoulder level, arms a little forward of your body. Push weights over your head, then lower back to starting position.
Hip Flexion: Works the muscles that flex the hip
Strap on ankle weights, then sit at the edge of a chair with back straight, knees flexed. Bring one knee toward the ceiling. Hold leg for a count of 1, then return to the starting position. Do not lean forward or backward as you move. Do 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg.
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of More.