The Best Mobility Exercises to Prevent Sarcopenia in Older Adults


Please login to view this content , or sign up for an account

Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, is a common concern for older adults. I’ve written about it previously in this blog (read it here), but wanted to go more in depth on specific exercises that can help prevent/reverse this common disease in older adults. Sarcopenia can lead to decreased mobility, increased risk of falls, and a decline in overall quality of life. Fortunately, regular exercise can help prevent and even reverse sarcopenia. Here are some of the best mobility exercises designed to combat muscle loss and promote strength and flexibility in older adults.

Strength Training

Squats strengthen the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. These muscles are critical for being able to move (walking, running, etc) and overall are critical for remaining independent in your older years.

How to squat:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly bend your knees and lower your hips as if you’re sitting in a chair. Keep your back straight and knees aligned with your toes. Rise back up to the starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Once you feel it is too easy, try holding some weight as you do it.

Resistance Band Rows
Rows strengthen the upper back, shoulders, and arms. While not critical for walking around, these muscles are important for lifting or carrying things.

How to row:
Sit on a chair or bench, loop a resistance band around your feet, and hold the ends in each hand. Pull the band towards your torso, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return to the starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. As these get easier, you can find a stronger resistance band and increase the weight that way.

Flexibility and Stretching

Seated Hamstring Stretch
This stretch helps to maintain flexibility in the back of the legs, reducing stiffness and improving mobility.

How to stretch:
Sit on the edge of a chair, extend one leg straight out with the heel on the floor, and gently lean forward from your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 20-30 seconds and switch legs.

Overhead Reach
This stretch stretches the upper body and improves shoulder mobility. This is something I regularly do as someone who has poor shoulder mobility. Doing these as well as just hanging on a pull-up bar have helped tremendously.

How to stretch:
Sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise one arm overhead and reach towards the opposite side. Hold for 15-20 seconds and switch arms. Repeat a few times on each side.

Balance and Coordination

Heel-to-Toe Walk
This type of walking helps to improve coordination and balance, both of which are crucial for preventing falls.

How to:
Find a place where you have enough room to walk 10-20 steps forward. Walk in a straight line, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other foot with each step. Turn around, and repeat.

Single Leg Stand
Standing on a single leg is a great exercise for enhancing balance and stability.

How to:
Stand behind a sturdy chair, holding the back for support. Lift one foot off the ground and balance on the other leg for as long as comfortable. Aim for 10-15 seconds and gradually increase the duration as you get stronger. Do the same on each leg.

Aerobic Exercises

Walking boosts cardiovascular health and overall endurance. If you’re able to, fast walking or jogging is even better. I’ve also seen many people holding light weights or using ankle weights to increase the intensity.

How to:
Aim for at least 30 minutes of walking most days of the week. Start with shorter distances and gradually increase the duration and intensity.

Like walking, cycling helps to strengthen the lower body and improves cardiovascular fitness. I am personally a huge fan of mountain biking as it combines my passion of exercise and the outdoors.

How to:
Either using a stationary bike or cycling outdoors, aim for 20-30 minutes of cycling a few times a week.

Dynamic Movements

Marching in Place
If you’re unable to get outside or walk, this movement also increases heart rate and improves coordination and leg strength.

How to:
Stand up straight and slowly lift one knee as high as comfortable, then lower it and lift the other knee. Continue marching in place for 1-2 minutes or however long you’re able. Repeat throughout the day.

Arm Circles
Like overhead reaching, this movement improves shoulder mobility and warms up the upper body muscles.

How to:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, extend your arms out to the sides, and make small circles with your arms. Gradually make the circles larger. Perform 10-15 circles in each direction or aim for 30 second sets of 3-5.

The Take Home Message

Preventing sarcopenia through regular exercise is essential for maintaining muscle mass, strength and overall mobility as we age. Incorporating these exercises into your routine will undoubtedly help keep your muscles strong and flexible. Remember to start slowly and listen to your body, gradually increasing the intensity and duration as you become more comfortable. Some of you may be more athletic than others, so adjust the repetitions or time how you see fit. I hope these exercises help you to stay active, stay strong, and enjoy a healthier, more vibrant life!

Remember to always consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise program, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions!

E. Dylan Mayer is a graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder, with a major in Neuroscience and minor in Business. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Columbia University.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD