Just three basic movements will keep your entire body strong and fit
Like it or not, exercise is an integral part of healthy living. Fortunately, it can be easily and effectively incorporated into your everyday life without having to spend money on a pricey gym membership or personal trainer.
In fact, for the large majority of the population, buying a membership to a fitness center is no more productive than taking diet pills. Studies have shown that of those individuals who enroll in a fitness club, 80 percent drop out within eight weeks.
That's not to say that gyms are a waste of time. If structured exercise programs work for you, stick with them. If they don't, then don’t feel guilty, and don’t waste your money. You can get similar results at home.
There are three specific activities that are my favorites for overall strength. Together, they work to maintain strength in all areas of your body, literally from head to toe. You'll recognize them as old stand-bys:
The overall best exercise for upper body strength is the pushup. It builds your arms, shoulders, and chest. There are many variations on the pushup.
To increase difficulty of a pushup, elevate your feet on a footstool, bed, or couch. Then suspend one leg in the air or one arm behind the back (or both).
If you can't do a regular pushup and need to decrease the difficulty, try "pushbacks" using a wall. Stand back from the wall a little further than arm's length, lean in, and put your palms on the wall at shoulder height and width. Slowly bend your elbows, lean into the wall, and repeat for 10 repetitions. Gradually work up to doing this three times. It is more effective if you don't lock your elbows at the end of each pushback.
If you have stiffness or tightness between the shoulder blades, or have a problem with slumping shoulders, you can do a variation of the pushback by performing the maneuver in a corner, with your hands on either side of the corner. This will allow you to dip deeper and feel a nice stretch between the shoulders.
Other tips to get the most out of your pushups:
- Keep your weight at the back of your hands near your wrists rather than on your fingertips. If this hurts your wrists, look for "pushup handles" at a sporting goods store, or grab onto dumbbells (use hex-shaped ones, so they won't roll away).
- Protect your back by keeping your bottom and your abdominal muscles tucked in to keeping it from sagging.
- Keep your hands at least shoulder-width apart to help protect your shoulders.
- Breathe in synchronization with your movement. Inhale on the way down, and exhale on the way up.
The squat is undoubtedly the best exercise for muscles in the lower body. The safest method is to use a sturdy, firm chair as a "safety net." Stand in front of the chair with your feet spread shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight, and your arms extended in front of you. Slowly lower yourself until you almost touch the chair, hold that position for a couple of seconds (longer as you progress) and then slowly come to the upright position again.
This exercise will strengthen the muscles in your legs, knees, and buttocks. If you have good balance, you can also strengthen your calves and ankles by rolling up on the balls of your feet when you’ve reached the standing position. If your balance isn’t so good, do this aspect of the exercise separately while holding on to the back of the chair.
To make squats more difficult, use something lower than a chair, like a short stool or ottoman, or work up to a full squat.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold your arms in front of you at shoulder height, palms facing outward and fingers clasped. Keep your hips still and twist your torso clockwise, then counterclockwise, as far as you can. Be sure your arms and head move with your torso. This is mostly a stretching exercise so don’t "bounce" your trunk at the end of the movement, or you could injure your back. Instead, push as far as you can in one direction before moving back.
You don't need to do all of these exercises in one concentrated session. Instead, do several of each several times a day.