Article originally posted 5/27/16 on www.poughkeepsiejournal.com
Sometimes Barbara Schutzman exercises while standing. Other times she does her workout from a chair, like during Mary Beth Perfas’ Sit & Stay Fit class at Northern Dutchess Hospital Women’s View Center at the Healthy Annex in Rhinebeck.
“The fact that she’s able to address almost the entire body based on using a chair is wonderful,” said Schutzman, 75, of Rhinebeck. “It’s quite a workout.”
Exercise and physical activity, reports the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus, are good for seniors and nearly everyone else, including endurance routines for better breathing and heart rate, strength exercises for stronger muscles, flexibility programs to stay limber and balance training to help prevent falls.
And yet, while fall-related injuries send more than 2 million seniors to the emergency room each year, it’s a fear of falling that causes many seniors and others with physical limitations or balance issues to avoid exercising, even while it can improve balance and overall fitness. One way to minimize worry while working out is by doing so while sitting in a chair or holding on to one.
“There are a lot of chair exercises and this is perfect because some of (my students) have limited mobility,” said Perfas, who developed her Sit & Stay Fit class with chair-based exercises as a less intense option for seniors and others.
Best, said Perfas, is exercising in chairs without arms to allow for a full range of fitness routines, including those for arms, legs, feet and ankles, the neck, shoulders and the back. Perfas sets her hour-long sessions to music and directs her class to do as she does by lifting their chests, scooping out their arms, turning their torso and more, allowing each person to go at his or her pace whiling encouraging them to challenge themselves.
“They need a little support,” she said, of her students. “It makes them feel good to know (the chair) is right there, in case they fall.”
Schutzman said Perfas’ workout is less taxing because it’s done while seated or holding on to a chair, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sweat-inducing.
“It’s a class like this that keeps you agile,” she said.
Judith Muir, an Alexander Technique movement specialist and teacher based in Verbank, said chair exercises can help people with stability issues and physical limitations due to age or disabilities, regain their balance and improve their mobility and flexibility.
“We all know that keeping a person mobile, especially a senior, is the most important thing in terms of other more complicated health issues,” she said.
Often, seniors that are unsteady on their feet are afraid of falling or getting hurt when moving, so they limit their activities, decreasing their quality of life. As well, seniors often are told to sit by their loved ones and caregivers due to concerns about their getting into accidents or falling. Yet the more a person moves around, the steadier he or she is likely to be.
“You’re working in a supported environment in which (people) can comfortably explore what they are capable of doing and then they’re not intimidated,” Muir said of exercises done where a person sits in a chair or stands by it for support. “They’re surrounded by people that have different degrees of movement.”
Sturdy, straight-back chairs with padded seats and backs work best, Muir said. Chair arms can serve as grab bars but limit a sitter’s ability to rotate for some exercises.
Muir starts group classes with seated warm-ups, such as side-to-side rotations, and downward head rolls to stretch the spine.
“It’s a very simple thing to do and you’ve got the support of the chair,” she said. “If anyone’s worried about falling, it’s going to be minimized.”
Seated arm exercises include those where people raise their arms up over their heads and out to their sides, with the idea of fully stretching the spine, all with coordinated breathing. Such exercises can help increase breathing capacity, balance and mobility.
Leg work also can be done while sitting, including kicking legs outward and using one’s arms to bring a knee up to the chest, as people are able. Other exercises involve standing behind a chair and, while holding its back for support, twisting, turning or swinging out one leg at a time.
“Anything to do with stretching and breathing is not only going to help with balance, it’s also going to help with blood flow,” said Muir.
Some exercises can be done with mild weights or resistance bands to increase their effectiveness and, as people improve, the movements can be done in longer sets. As well, Muir said people should double-up on exercises for their ‘bad side.’ For instance, a person whose left hip is tighter than his right one, would exercise the left side first, then the right side and then, again, the left side.
“The fact that you can move more than you thought you could, builds confidence,” Muir said.
Ideally, she said, seniors, especially, should exercise daily but it takes a lot of motivation for most people to do so at home, on their own. Worse, the less a person moves around, the greater his tendency will become to do even less. Going to group exercise helps keep people motivated in a supported, social atmosphere.
“It’s good to get them to sing,” Muir said, of her exercise classes. “It helps with breathing and generally improves the mood.”
Certified yoga instructor Dana Lucas conducts intermittent sessions of chair yoga classes at the Millbrook Library in Millbrook, where participants use a chair and/or a wall for support as needed.
“Typically, what people think is it’s a senior class,” Lucas said. “That’s not my experience. People come when they’re new to yoga and not sure (of it), when they’ve been away from yoga for a while. Maybe, coming back from an injury. Sometimes it’s people who have an illness or diagnosis. Their physical bodies are more limited. They don’t feel like they’re steady on their feet.”
Opening the body through yoga, said Lucas, relaxes the central nervous system, allowing for better circulation and breathing. During her hour-long class, Lucas offers pose variations and options to suit each individual’s abilities, with the exercises incorporating breathing techniques. The workouts are aimed at increasing people’s flexibility and space in their body to counter things like compression in the spine, which can be caused by slumped sitting or stooping.
“It’s my job to offer everybody something so they’re benefiting and getting something out of it,” she said.
Khan Maserjian Shan is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Standing on one foot can help people improve their balance. Try this exercise, which can be done while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the grocery store.
- Stand on one foot behind a sturdy chair, grasping the chair back for balance.
- Hold position for up to ten seconds.
- Repeat 10-15 times with one leg, then the other.
- Repeat the sequence 10-15 times.
Source: National Institutes of Aging, Go4Life: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/stand-one-foot
For more chair-based exercises, visit the National Institutes of Aging, Go4Life at: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/strength
- Sit & Keep Fit: http://www.healthquest.org/rhinebeck/events/sit-stay-fit-class-4378.aspx
- Judith Muir: http://judithmuir.com/
- Dana Lucas Yoga: http://www.facebook.com/Dana-Lucas-Yoga-1625164911087756/