Lisa and I have been talking about our grandparents quite a bit recently, and I’ve been researching some about current training methods for older adults.  I’m not sure why, but the current methods that I’ve seen so far haven’t been focused on the best activities for maintaining independence.

Before we can set up any kind of exercise program for a person (regardless of age), we have to look at what activities that person is training for.  For older adults, most of them want to be sure to maintain their independence.  So, if we think about the activities that entails, they want to be able to get their mail, walk around the mall, do their own laundry, get into a car easily, put up their groceries, etc.  While all of us need to be able to do these activities, our retired friends are typically the ones who acknowledge the importance of being able to perform activities of daily living.

The first question is, “What are the main observations we can make about activities of daily living?”  Once we know the answer to this question, we can then look at how to train the body to do those activities.  Activities of daily living almost always involve multiple joints moving at once.  The hip, knee, and ankle all move at once in walking.  Most of the joints in the body are used when pulling a door open.  Obviously, you’ll have to use your arm to pull, but you also use a whole host of muscles in your trunk and legs to provide the stability that your arm needs to open the door.  Since activities of daily living always use multiple joints at once, any exercise program for an older person will have to do the same.  A bicep curl will be replaced with pulling a resistance band while standing.  The bicep curl only works one muscle in the arm.  The resistance band pull will work the entire body (just like opening a door would).

After that, we have to acknowledge that activities of daily living largely involve moving our own body weight rather than anything else.  This is especially true for our legs.  Our legs have to carry around the rest of our body all day long.  Since that is their principle function, that is how we should train them.  The main exercise we can use to train our bodies for activities of daily life is a squat (aka “sit to stand”).  If this is too hard, you can find a taller chair or bar stool.  The taller the surface you’re sitting on is, the easier it will be to stand up.  There’s no shame in starting with the tallest chair in the house.  That’s only your beginning point, and it’s your most significant step towards maintaining your independence.

The last major issue that training for activities of daily living will involve is using only one limb at a time.  That’s solely because that’s how we really move.  We walk one leg at a time, and if we never exercise that way then we will slowly lose our independence.  If you can do single-legged squats, that’s awesome!  Keep doing them!  If you can’t, you can still do some level of single-legged work… and you need to.  It’s absolutely vital to your walking ability because two-legged exercise isn’t able to adequately work some of the smaller muscles in your hips and ankles.  You have to train these muscles to some degree to remain independent.  Even balancing on one leg while holding on to a table will work.  If that’s still too hard, then stand in between two chairs with one arm on each, and use them to stabilize yourself (after making sure that they won’t move, of course).  If that’s too hard, e-mail me.  I’ll think of something.  However, it is critical to do at least some level of single-legged exercise.

While focusing on exercising for activities of daily living seems to be most applicable for older adults, it’s really something that everyone should focus on regardless of their age.  I’ve even noticed a major difference in myself although I’m only 24 since training for activities of daily living.  Whether it’s walking for a long time, climbing stairs, or getting out of a low car, everything is easier.  Preventing a loss in independence is much easier than regaining lost independence.  Take a few steps now to exercise your body in the manner it is used in real life, and you will make virtually every physical activity of daily living easier.