Science may not have given us the fountain of youth in a bottle (yet!), but it's proven that regular exercise can help you live a longer, healthier life. A 2015 study found that 30 minutes of physical activity six days a week was associated with an almost 40 percent reduction in mortality risk among men in their 60s and 70s. And in a 2013 Australian study, people who regularly exercise cut their risk of cardiovascular disease by 33 to 50 percent and significantly reduced their mortality rates. While most of these studies focused primarily on cardiovascular exercise, adding strength training into your workout will help you live better during those extra years. All of these exercises have applications to everyday life -- do them as a single workout or pick ones to mix into your existing routine.
The Longevity Assessment
"One of the effects of aging is loss of muscle mass and range of motion, which can lead to a decrease in functionality," says Robin Gillespie, NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective-exercise specialist. "Everyday activities, such as walking up stairs or taking bags of groceries out of the car, may become challenging and tiring." To see where you stand, try this simple test developed by Brazilian physician Claudio Gil Araujo. In his 2011 study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, every point you get decreases your mortality risk by 21 percent. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing and lower yourself into a seated position on the floor without leaning on anything for support. Now stand back up without using your hands, knees, forearms or sides of your legs for help. You start out with 10 points, but then subtract one point for every assist you need. Aim for a score of eight or above.
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"Your core gets weak as you age, and planks are the best way to build core strength without putting pressure on the lower back," says Minna Herskowitz, NFPT-certified personal trainer and owner of Sandbox Fitness in Sherman Oaks, California. Plus, if the standard plank is too easy for you, you can make it more challenging by rocking back and forth on your toes or balancing on one foot or one hand at a time. HOW TO DO IT: Begin on your knees with your hands underneath your shoulders. Press into your hands and feet to suspend your entire body above the floor. It should feel like you're in the top of a push-up. Make sure your body is properly aligned -- from your heels to your neck. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds and repeat for three total sets.
2. Glute Bridge
Glute bridges are an excellent low-impact exercise that nearly anyone can do regardless of age. "You need basic glute and hamstring strength to be able to walk, so this exercise will aid you with walking as you age," says personal trainer Minna Herskowitz. Plus, this exercise is perfect if you have bad knees, as it strengthens the muscles that support the knee joint. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your legs bent, knees pointing to the ceiling and your feet a few inches away from your butt. Leave your hands by your side for support. Pressing into your heels and arms, slowly lift your back and glutes off the floor, being careful not to arch your lower back. Lower back down until you are hovering an inch above the ground. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps. If you want to try single-leg bridges, aim for 10 reps on each leg, but only do two sets.
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3. Body-Weight Squat
There's no denying that squats are an essential part of every workout. They target every major muscle in your lower body and have a number of everyday applications. "They are great for basic up-and-down movements, like lowering yourself into a chair and getting up from it," says personal trainer Minna Herskowitz. "You need your quads for balance. Without quad muscles you can't walk properly or stand for long periods of time without your knees getting tired." HOW TO DO IT: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and turned slightly outward. Hinge slightly at your hips and bend your knees as you lower your glutes toward the floor as if you were sitting back into a chair. Raise your arms out in front of you at chest level for balance. Lower your arms back down to your side as you stand up. Do as many reps as you can with good form in 60 seconds. Work on increasing that number as you get stronger.
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4. Standing Single-Arm Overhead Press
To help your shoulders stay strong during everyday activities like grabbing something from the top shelf of a cabinet or lifting a chair over your head to move it, this exercise is essential. And while any type of overhead pressing will strengthen and stabilize your shoulder joints, a 2011 study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that standing single-arm overhead presses also recruited more of your abdominal and oblique muscles. HOW TO DO IT: Begin standing, grab a dumbbell in one hand and hoist it up to shoulder level, palm facing outward. Without bending your knees for momentum, lift the weight above your head directly over your shoulder using just your shoulder and arm strength. Lower the weight back down to shoulder level slowly and with control and repeat. Perform 10 reps on each side for two sets.
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5. One-Arm Farmer’s Carry
"This exercise helps with things like carrying groceries, shopping bags and luggage," says Henry Halse, ACSM-certified personal trainer and owner of Halse Strength and Fitness. You not only need arm strength to lift and carry the dumbbell or kettlebell, you will also need your abdominal and oblique strength to keep your torso from twisting or bending to the side with the weight on it. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing with a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand. Keeping your core tight, your shoulders pulled back and your back straight, walk from one side of the room to the other, set down your weight and repeat twice more.
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6. Turkish Get-Up
Even though this is an advanced move, if you're a beginner, you can do this exercise without any weights to get the feel for the form. "The Turkish get-up is basically the art of getting up off of the ground," says personal trainer Henry Halse. "Falls are extremely dangerous [for older adults] because sometimes they can't get up to get help." Adding just one of these to your routine will train your body how to respond in case of a fall. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with a dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand with the arm outstretched and held over your shoulder. Bend your right knee so that your foot is near your glutes. Push the weight directly over you as you brace your body with your left hand. Swing your left leg underneath you as you come to a kneeling lunge. Still keeping the weight directly over you, push off the ground and stand up. Reverse the motion to lower yourself back to the start. Start out with just one rep to get the feel for it. You can gradually increase to two to three sets of three to five reps.
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7. Walkout Push-Up
Push-ups have plenty of functional applications for your everyday life, but the walkout push-up adds an extra element of coordination and balance. The upper-body strength this exercise develops will help you when carrying, kids, groceries and even moving furniture, says personal trainer Minna Herskowitz. HOW TO DO IT: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend forward and place your hands on the ground. Walk your hands out in front of you until you are in a plank position. Perform a standard push-up by lowering your chest to the ground and pushing back up into a plank. Walk your hands back to your feet and stand up again. Repeat as many times as you can with good form in 60 seconds.
8. Bent-Over Row
When it comes to keeping your back healthy and strong as you age, one of the best exercises you can do is the row. "Strengthening your upper back is super important for posture," says personal trainer Minna Herskowitz. "As you age, your spine shrinks and people tend to hinge forward. This exercise will help keep you upright and prevent your posture from going out the window." Just be sure to keep your back flat during this bent-over variation. Or you can swap it out in favor of an upright-row machine (if you have access to one). HOW TO DO IT: With a barbell in your hands, hinge forward at your hips so that your back is parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang in front of your chest, then, using your upper-back muscles, pull the bar toward your chest while keeping your arms close to the sides of your body. Slowly lower the bar back down and repeat for three sets of eight to 12 reps.
"The deadlift is the king of functional exercise, in my opinion," says personal trainer Henry Halse. "How many times during the day do you have to bend down to pick something up?" This incredibly functional exercise targets your hamstrings and glutes and teaches your body how to correctly pick up something heavy (i.e., not with your back). HOW TO DO IT: Stand with feet hip-width apart, feet pointing forward and a loaded (or unloaded, depending on your strength) barbell several inches in front of you. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and grab the bar. Without arching or straining your back, press through your heels, contract your glutes and stand up. The barbell should hang at your thighs. Lower the barbell down to the ground with control, remembering to not round your back as you do. Perform three sets of five reps. If you can do more than five reps, Halse says, it's time to increase the weight.
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10. Climb Stairs
This bonus exercise extends well beyond your workout. Though you can certainly use the Stairmaster in your gym or find a good, long outdoor set of stairs as part of your cardio training, why not also incorporate them into your day-to-day activities? "Climb the stairs five times more per day than you have to," says personal trainer Henry Halse. "Make up reasons to go upstairs." Don't have access to stairs? Try running in place with high knees or jumping rope. HOW TO DO IT: If you're at the gym or working out outdoors, try for at least 15 minutes of going up and down stairs, resting at the bottom if you need to. Remember to keep good posture and to be quick and light on your feet. Watch your speed going down, and keep your lower half under control. You can use your arms for a little momentum, but they shouldn't be swinging wildly front to back. In your everyday life, try to always favor the stairs over escalators or elevators to up your daily calorie burn and tone your lower body at the same time.
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Cool Down and Stretch
What you do after your workout can be just as important to your muscles and recovery as what you do before and during. "Cool down with dynamic stretches," says personal trainer Robin Gillespie. "Walk across the room pulling your knee in toward the body to stretch the hip." She also recommends this stretch/exercise: Walk laterally across the length of the room, stepping out wide and bringing your arms up to shoulder level. Then reach across your body toward your foot before stepping your feet back together. Make sure to "walk" this way in both directions, then finish your cooldown with static stretches for the hamstrings, quads and hips, she says.
What Do YOU Think?
When you exercise, do you focus more on the immediate benefits or the long-term ones? What are some of your favorite exercises with real-life applications? Do you do any of the exercises listed in this slideshow? What results have you noticed since you started doing them? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!
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- Minna Herskowitz, NFPT-certified personal trainer and owner of Sandbox Fitness in Sherman Oaks, California
- Henry Halse, ACSM-certified personal trainer and owner of Halse Strength and Fitness
- Robin Gillespie, NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective-exercise specialist