Exercise is good for everyone, but seniors with mobility or balance issues may wonder what kind of exercise they can do that will be safe, easy and effective. Jogging outdoors, running on a treadmill or lifting weights at the gym aren't always practical — or enjoyable — activities for everyone. However, one type of exercise works for everyone, no matter your age or ability, because it relies on improving practical movements often involved in everyday activities.
"Natural movement is universal, and it's about bringing movement back to the basics," says Bradly Prigge, wellness exercise specialist with the Mayo Clinic's Healthy Living Program. "It's not about following the latest fitness craze or learning the newest secret to weight loss. Natural movement is about connecting with your body and cultivating an awareness of your full abilities."
Rather than engaging in strenuous activity for its own sake alone, natural movement training emphasizes improving the efficiency of practical movements which can include rising from a seated to a standing position, getting up off the floor, crawling, stepping under or over objects, and more. The objective, Prigge explains, is not just to improve health but also enhance how well you can perform each movement.
Efficient movement can help with balance, inspire more healthful activity, and provide practical benefits in everyday life — all of which are especially valuable to seniors facing mobility or health challenges.
"The practice and training of movement shouldn't feel like a chore or something you have to do," Prigge says. "Rather, it should empower and liberate you, and, as a result, enhance your life. Natural movement training can help improve your strength, mobility and conditioning, but they're not the direct goal. Those improvements are the result of practicing and developing movement skills that are directly transferable to real world situations, like rising from a seated to a standing position, walking with balance and confidence, and lifting a bag of groceries without injury."
Natural movement is for everyone because at its most basic level it incorporates movements that are instinctual to all humans. For example, a natural movement workout might include crawling on your hands and knees for 30 seconds to a few minutes, sitting on the floor and swiveling hips and knees to facilitate standing up, or balancing while walking across a beam.
"I realized just how organic this type of exercise is after attending a natural movement training class," Prigge says. "I came home and saw my 2-year-old daughter doing the same kind of moves I'd just learned in training, without anyone teaching her to do them."
Prigge offers some advice for making the most of your natural movement workout:
* Pay attention to your movement and strive to develop awareness of your body's sensations, and how different movements feel. For example, where do you feel pressure and/or tension in your body when making a particular move? How does shifting your body weight or changing position alter those sensations?
* Only perform movements and positions that your body allows without producing pain. Just as walking, sitting, standing and other everyday movements shouldn't cause pain, your natural movement workout should also be pain-free.
* It's alright — and even advisable — to use your hands for support or raise your hips with bolsters or pillows until you develop greater mobility and strength.
* Be kind to yourself and realize it is important to meet yourself where you currently are, rather than where you used to be or feel you should be.
To learn more about natural living and the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, visit healthyliving.mayoclinic.org.