The question is, do you need special equipment for a decent exercise program. The answer is simple: Yes and No. Yes, you can go running or walking and all you need is a pair of decent shoes. But is running or walking enough exercise? If you read last week’s article, you already know it’s not. In fact as I said, if you are a senior and you are not training for a 5 or 10K event, or are not a master’s runner, you probably shouldn’t be running in the first place. Why not? Primarily because of the stress on your aging joints and other infrastructure. No matter how physically conditioned you are, if you do a lot of running, your knees, ankles and feet take a tremendous beating. I don’t recall the exact amount of force that you put on your feet, ankles and knees when you run, but I do recall that it is far more than the average senior can easily deal with, without injury.
But beyond walking, what else should you be doing. For most seniors, the goal is mobility and functionality. This includes the ability to completely control your body during exercise. This can require a great deal of strength. Functionality is the ability to use your body to do the things you need to do: carry groceries and put them away, lift your infant grandchild, smoothly and easily get in and out of a car (both driver’s side and passenger side). It means the ability to push, pull, lift, carry, bend and twist, and balance. It means being able to move your body easily and smoothly, with complete physical control of what you are doing.
And that requires more than sitting on the couch all evening watching TV or playing on your computer or smartphone, even after a walk.
So what sort of equipment do you need to get the kind of exercise and movement your body requires to be mobile and functional? Let’s start with the equipment you see on late night TV infomercials. Do you need it? NO! The only exercise equipment I found on TV that I liked was the old time “ab wheel” and there is a much better way to get the benefit of the same movement that doesn’t require any equipment.
In fact, your body is the best exercise equipment of all. If you really want to, you can get all the benefits of most any equipment available on the market by just using your own body and bodyweight. And the nice thing about your own bodyweight is that you can easily make adjustments in resistance just by changing the position of your body. For example, you can vary the way you do push-ups from nearly standing and pushing against a door frame or a wall, to the basic prone push-up on your toes or on your knees, all the way to the handstand push-up (more than we’ll ever need to do). The point is the difficulty of the movement can be changed simply by changing the leverage of your own bodyweight. I’ll go into bodyweight exercise in another article, but to answer the question I posed at the beginning, you can get all the resistance exercise you need with just your own bodyweight.
The reality is, though, that often it is more useful to use some sort of resistance equipment. My personal recommendation is to use free weights and exercise bands. You can do just about any exercises you will ever need with just those two simple add ons to your own bodyweight. Sometimes I personally use the suspension training systems such as the TRX system (at the gym) or the Rip-60 (at home or on trips), but these are luxuries rather than necessities.
For me, free weights and exercise bands work fine. I suggest light dumbbells of 3, 5,10 and maybe 15 pounds each. You can buy them at Target, Sports Authority, or other big box or sports equipment stores. Use them for simple resistance exercises for your upper body, mostly your arms, legs, shoulders and back muscles. For the beginning exerciser, you can use soup cans to do most any movement you can do with a dumbbell.
Resistance bands come in several forms. You can buy them with handles or you can buy bands that look like oversize ribbons (wide bands, normally without handles). They come in various resistance settings identified by different colored bands: easy, moderate and hard, and are often sold as packages. Since one size doesn’t always fit all, I recommend the bands that come in packages of three, with varying resistance.
That’s it. That’s all you need. If you belong to a gym or a health club, you’ll normally find all of the equipment you’ll ever need. If you choose to move your body at home, it’s really not expensive to pick up resistance bands and a couple of dumbbells. And of course, best of all, you can use your own bodyweight to get most of the resistance you will ever need.
If you’re a senior body builder or a strength athlete, then by all means lift heavy weights. That’s what you do. But if you’re a typical senior seeking to upgrade your mobility, strength and functionality, a couple of dumbbells, resistance bands and your own body are all you’ll ever need. And don’t forget to walk.
Thanks for reading.