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Upper Body Strength is Important for Seniors

Science tells us that once we approach our third decade in life, we begin to lose one percent of muscle mass with every passing year. The elasticity of muscles also decreases with age, thus causing muscles and joints to become stiff. For that reason, many seniors incorporate physical activity and exercise into their daily regimen to prevent upper body muscle loss by promoting protein synthesis in the cell membrane. 

The elderly need strength training more and more as they grow older to stay mobile for their everyday activities. The goal of training is to reduce the loss of muscle mass and the resulting loss of mobility. Although stiffness and muscle aches and pain are a part of the normal aging process, they can be controlled with proper flexibility and strengthening exercises so you can continue to pursue meaningful activities that make your life enjoyable and fun. One commonality amongst popular senior activities, like gardening, yard work, housekeeping, and sports activities, is that they all require that you have strength and endurance in specific muscle groups, which includes the vital muscles in the upper back. Upper body weakness if left unattended can cause lower back pain and funny feelings in arm and hand.

Upper Body Muscle Function

As soon as you get out of bed, neck muscles have to hold your head against gravity. Gravity also pulls your shoulders forward, along with your chin and head. In this forward head posture, not only do your neck muscles have to work a lot harder to hold your head against gravity, but it also stretches your upper back muscles. Muscle belly, also known as muscle fibers, has a lot of elasticity and can become weaker when they remain in stretched position for too long – think about a rubber band that is kept in a stretched position for too long – it does not go back to its original length. Similarly, overstretched upper back muscles become weaker and lose the ability to generate strength and endurance. 

Upper back muscle weakness is often reflected in your posture, as it gives you the appearance of having a hunched back. When upper back muscles are weaker, any arm movement above the waist level puts more strain on the lower back muscles. A straight upper back is not only for good posture that is aesthetically pleasing, but it is also important to minimize the abuse of muscles in the neck and lower back. 

The Anatomy of the Upper Body

The upper body consists primarily of your shoulders, biceps, triceps, upper back, and abdomen, which are very important muscles that help you work, exercise, and engage in many other activities that make up your day! Strengthening those key muscles is the foundation of a strong upper body and creates even better sync with the lower body to bear the weight of the body and for locomotion

Did you know your arm does not begin at your shoulder? The shoulder blade and the muscles attached from your shoulder blade to your spine make up the beginning of your arm and are all a part of your arm – in fact, all of your upper back muscles are part of your arm. When reaching for an item on a higher shelf or fixing your hair, the upper back muscles work to raise your arm overhead. When those upper back muscles are weaker, you recruit your neck muscles when reaching just by shrugging the shoulders. Over time, this will cause tears in the rotator cuff or give funny feelings in your hands and arms, thus resulting in most people being referred to an orthopedic doctor and to a physical therapist. It is costly and time consuming to feel better after years of abuse of neck muscles and lack of use of the upper back muscles. 

At-Home Exercises for Increased Strength

Now that you have a better understanding of the upper body and how it functions, you can get started with building a training plan to improve your upper body mobility and strength. It is recommended that healthy elderly people train 4 times a week for the best results, alternating between lower and upper body exercises to rest them in between workouts. You can also opt to strengthen your upper body in your own home without having to join a local gym or purchasing expensive equipment. There are several ways you can pursue upper body strengthening – incorporate the following exercises into your workout plan to target key upper body muscles and improve your overall physique:

  1. Lateral Shoulder Raises. Strengthens your upper arms, shoulders, and chest to improve your daily activities like opening doors or pushing a shopping cart.
  2. Bicep Curls. Strengthens the upper arm to help make lifting activities easier.
  3. Tricep Kickbacks. Strengthens your upper arms, improves flexibility and increases range of motion when doing activities like rising from a chair or swimming.
  4. Upright Rows. Strengthens your upper back arms and arms to improve your ability to lift heavier objects around the house.
  5. Stability Ball Ball. Use a not fully blown 55- or 65-inch stability ball and lie face down on it so you can walk on outstretched arms, bearing body weight on upper back muscles to your tolerance. For more stability ball exercises, contact us here.

Upper body strength is critical for balance, injury prevention, and longevity and is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do for your health as you age. Talk to your physical therapist about your health goals and work with them to set a plan to build your upper body strength for better living.

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