Physical activities

Anti-aging: value of multi-component physical activities

By Coach John Hughes

Note that the title is “Physical Activities” and not “Exercises” because multi-component activities are more like activities of daily living than exercise programs.

In a recent column, I discussed Anti-Aging: New Exercise Recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2n/a US Department of Health and Human Services edition. These are very similar to the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine. In summary, the recommendations are:

  1. Aerobic: For cardiovascular health at least 30 minutes a day most days of moderate aerobic activity totaling at least 2.5 hours a week; or 1:15 of vigorous aerobic activity per week; or a combination.
  2. Muscle strengthening: To prevent atrophy from muscle building activities involving all major muscle groups. Two or three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
  3. Balance exercises: To improve activities of daily living and reduce the risk of falling. At least two or three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
  4. Stretching/flexing exercises: Maintain the flexibility needed for regular physical activity and activities of daily living. At least two or three days a week for 10 to 15 minutes a day.
  5. Loading: To maintain strong bones to reduce the risk of injury in the event of a fall. At least 30 to 60 minutes a day three to five days a week.

The Physical Activity Guidelines continue: “As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should engage in multicomponent physical activity. …Multicomponent refers to physical activity that includes more than one type of physical activity, such as aerobics, muscle strengthening, and balance training. …Research shows that multi-component physical activity programs are most effective in reducing falls and injuries.

Advantages of multi-component activities

Effective use of time

You are already riding for at least the minimum amount of aerobic activity and probably more. Doing the minimum amounts to meet guidelines #2 through #5 as separate activities takes at least three hours per week and up to 8:45 am per week if you do the maximums recommended for each type. You don’t want to shrink your constituency, so how can you fit into #2 through #5?

A simple example is using free weights instead of machines for strength training. Exercise scientists using the latest research recommend squats. (New York Times The Power of the Squat) Squats with some kind of load (a backpack with canned goods, containing containers of kitty litter, dumbbells, a barbell, etc.) are both strength training and weight-bearing. Split squats and lunges also work on balance. In addition to your legs, squats train your core and upper back, help maintain flexibility, stability, and function in your hips, knees, and ankles, and work on your balance. If done correctly, squats are not bad for your joints. I explain how to do squats in this column: Anti-aging: 4 essential home resistance exercises all year round

Improve activities of daily living.

Many of your activities of daily living are multi-component, for example, getting up from the toilet without using your arms requires both strength and balance. Putting something heavy on a high shelf uses strength and dynamic balance. Bending down to pick something up from the floor requires strength, flexibility and balance.

Realistic.

You don’t do bicep curls or military deltoid presses in real life. You use your biceps and deltoids when you put your bike on top of the car or lift a bag of groceries up to the counter.

Practice.

Many multi-component activities require no equipment and can be easily incorporated into your daily activities. You don’t have to do all 20-30 minutes of strength training at once. Or 20 to 30 minutes of balance or 20 to 30 minutes of support. For example, instead of using a cart from the grocery store to the car, carry your groceries. Walk towards the car placing each heel just in front of the other toes. When you get to your car, you’ve done five minutes of strength, balance, and weight-bearing activity.

Reduce the risk of falling.

You walk, do not anticipate a curb and lose your balance when you go down. Simultaneous use of your strength and your balance will help you not to fall. If you are being jostled, not falling requires strength to resist the other person as well as balance.

How to do multi-component activities

Combine the types of exercises.

Variations of squats as explained above improve your leg strength, balance, and bone strength.

  • Standing on one foot for an upper body exercise works on strength, balance, and even bone strength because the entire load is on one leg.
  • Closing your eyes to do a standing exercise challenges your balance.
  • Sitting on your exercise ball while doing upper body exercises also strengthens your core and improves your balance.
  • Use a Bosu ball, which you can buy on Amazon or use at a gym. One side of a Bosu ball is a flat, hard surface and the other side is flexible and curved. You can use it for simultaneous strength and balance training. With the flat side of the ball on the floor, you do separate squats with your front foot on the curved flexible surface. Or stand on the ball and do squats while holding dumbbells. Or lay curved side down, place your hands on the flat side and do push-ups.

Use activities of daily living.

  • Reduces knee pain when descending stairs. Here is an example of how to go down stairs to reduce knee pain. Pain under the patella (kneecap) is called chondromalacia, the softening and breakdown of the cartilage below the kneecap. When you bend the knee, the patella is not padded, so it presses against the femur and it hurts. A physical therapist taught me steps to strengthen the head of the quadriceps so that the quadriceps lift the kneecap and keep the kneecap aligned when the knee bends, reducing pressure on the kneecap. Start by practicing this. Stand with both feet on a bench or step. Extend your right leg. Bend your left knee as if you were about to pull back. Descend until your left feels like it’s only bent 20 or 30 degrees and come back up. Hold on to something for balance first. Progress to do them without clinging to anything. You strengthen the heads of your quadriceps and glutes and simultaneously work on balance. Aim for 20 reps with each leg. When you can do 20 reps, progress slowly descending the stairs this way, lowering yourself with your upper legs.
  • Or strengthen your bones as you descend the stairs. The increase in resistance results from an increased overload. High impact activities such as jogging increase bone strength more than low impact activities such as walking. Instead of taking steps and lowering yourself under control, descend each step to increase the impact of your foot landing on the lower step.
  • Practice balance while doing chores. By sweeping the floor, you can improve your balance. Instead of just stepping forward, tighten your core, stand on your right foot, and move your left foot outward without pressing on it. Slowly shift your center of gravity while maintaining balance and stepping onto your foot. Stand in line as you shop, lifting one foot off the floor slightly and balancing on the other foot.

Enjoy recreational activities.

  • Dancing is fun and also works on balance, limb coordination and bone strength.
  • Tai Chi improves your balance as well as maintaining strength and flexibility. (Harvard Health: The Health Benefits of Tai Chi) Yoga has similar benefits.
  • In the United States, 4.8 million people play pickleball, nearly double the number five years ago. Pickleball improves your balance and bone strength as well as leg and upper body strength. This short Youtube video explains the game. Sports like racquetball and basketball are also multi-component.
  • Gardening requires flexibility and core strength, improves your balance, and also works on upper and lower body strength.
  • Cycling improves your dynamic balance. Put on loaded panniers and work on leg strength. However, do not attempt to incorporate additional multi-component activities with cycling, which could result in an accident.

Use your imagination to invent other multi-component activities. To work on leg strength and balance for skiing, a friend does single leg squats while brushing his teeth.

I have written many columns on the different types of recommended activities.

strength exercises

Balance

Flexibility

loading

Moderate aerobic exercise

Vigorous aerobic exercise

My eBook Anti-aging: 12 ways to slow down the aging process includes detailed chapters on strength training, balance and weight-bearing exercises, as well as aerobic, high-intensity aerobic and flexibility exercises. The exercises are illustrated with 24 photos. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I combine all six training modalities (aerobic, intense aerobic, strength, weight-bearing, balance, and flexibility) into an annual four-season plan. The 106 pages Anti-aging: 12 ways to slow down the aging process is $14.99.


Coach John Hughes has coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km ride and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He ran twice alone in the RAAM and finished 5 times in the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 e-books and e-articles on cycling training and nutrition, available from RBR’s e-bookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full biography.