An exercise ball, also called a Swiss or stability ball, is a great tool for exercise because it requires more core strength, balance and coordination than regular exercises---all of which are important for seniors. However, seniors should be careful to stick to basic ball exercises as they can be a lot more challenging than their stable counterparts. For a complete routine, do strength and core exercises with the ball twice a week for two sets of 8 to 12 reps. Also do 30 minutes of swimming or walking five days a week.
Seated Side Bends
A good, gentle abdominal exercise is a ball seated side bend. You should first become comfortable just sitting on a ball with your feet on the floor and your hands on your hips. If you can do this easily, go ahead and try this exercise. Otherwise, you can roll the ball against a wall or couch to keep it from rolling away until you learn to get your balance. You should also check with your physician if see if using the ball on your own is wise or if you should enlist the help of a personal trainer.
Sit on the ball and relax your arms to the sides of the ball. This way, you can grab the ball if you start to lose your balance. Look at a spot on the floor 3 to 5 feet in front of you, but do not tilt your chin down. Lean to the right as if reaching for the floor. Lean to your comfortable distance based on the flexibility of your spine. Inhale as you lean. Exhale and sit back up straight using the left oblique muscle of your waist to raise yourself back up straight. Now do the same thing to the left. Continue alternating until you have done four to six reps per side.
Squats With Ball
There are two ways to do squats with an exercise ball. With both variations, make sure that your knees do not go over your toes or you will put pressure on your knee joints. Squats are good for seniors because you can build lower body strength while controlling your range of motion. You are only lifting your body weight so the likelihood of injury is reduced.
Variation 1: Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the ball in front of you at chest height with your arms straight. This will also work your deltoid muscles. Inhale and bend your knees. Do not go low enough to cause pain. Shift your hips back and allow a slight forward lean with your spine. Exhale as you stand back up.
Variation 2: Ball squats are good because they force your hips to stay level, thereby forcing both legs to work equally and improving your posture. Be careful not to lose your balance and fall. Put the ball against the wall and lean back against it. The ball will be behind your pelvis, not your low back. Put your hands on your hips and your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and follow the same guidelines above. Be sure not to let your knees go past your toes. If you need to walk your feet forward a bit so this does not happen, do so.
Upper Body Exercises
Basic exercises for the arms such as bicep curls, French presses, and bent-arm lateral raises can be done on the ball to work your core, posture, and balance while strengthening your arms.
Bicep curls: Sit up straight and tall on the ball with a dumbbell in each hand. Always choose a weight that will fatigue your muscles on your last rep. Look straight ahead. Place your feet on the floor. Your heels should be down. Tuck your pelvis so your low back is flat. Hold your arms palms up with your elbows slightly bent. Never lock your joints. Exhale and curl your palms up toward your shoulders, stopping about a fist's distance from your shoulder. Inhale and lower your hands.
French presses: This exercise works your tricep muscles on the backs of your arms. Sit up straight as described above. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and place them palms together behind your head. Your elbows will be pointing up to the ceiling. Ideally, your elbows will be pointing forward but if this is too difficult you may allow them to open and point outward. Exhale and extend your arms straight over your head. Do not allow your elbows to move forward out of position. You are simply straightening your arms. Inhale and bend your elbows again. Be careful not to tilt your chin forward and strain your neck.
Bent-arm lateral raises: Sit on the ball with your elbows bent at right angles next to your ribs and under your shoulders. Pull your shoulders back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Exhale and lift your arms to shoulder height. Your elbows stay bent at right angles. Do not raise above shoulder height. Inhale and lower your arms back to your sides.
Holding yourself on the ball while moving the weights in various directions and maintaining good posture will help you build and maintain functional strength for daily living. These exercises are all effective, but can be done with very light weights so they are ideal for seniors.
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