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As a senior you may think of an exercise ball as advanced exercise equipment. In reality, early use of stability balls was for physical therapy. The balance factor of working on the ball strengthens core muscles without stressing bones and joints. Choose the right size ball -- one you can sit on with your thighs parallel to the ground when your feet are flat on the floor -- and make sure you can touch the wall or the ground if you feel like you're losing your balance. If you're new to exercise or haven't exercised in a while, get clearance from your physician before beginning. Start with one set of eight repetitions per exercise until you can safely do more.
Balance and Coordination
Seniors often develop issues with balance and coordination that can improve with exercise. Start by sitting on the exercise ball, feet hip-width apart, and simply trying to keep your back straight, with head, neck and pelvis in alignment, without wobbling too much. Progress to lifting alternate feet off the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees. Next, add coordination by trying to lift one foot off the floor while slowly lifting the the arm on the opposite side in front of you to shoulder height. At first, you may need to keep one or both hands on the ball for balance. You should work toward just the fingertips and then no hands at all.
The simple act of attempting to sit up straight, with stomach muscles contracted, while seated on the ball works to strengthen core muscles of the stomach and back, like the rectus abdominis, the obliques, the erector spinae and the latissimus dorsi. Circling the hips will provide additional work for the lower stomach and obliques. Circle first in one direction, then the other. Then try half-circles, essentially rolling out one hip, then the other. Be careful not to overextend the spine by flexing the pelvis. For extra back strengthening, lie prone -- face down -- with the ball placed between your sternum and navel. Try lifting the leg and arm on the same side without breaking alignment, that is, your arm and leg should be in a straight line with your head, neck and pelvis. Use the fingertips of the other hand for balance; however, don't attempt this exercise if you don't feel you can stay on the ball.
Squats are a great all-around exercise for the legs, working the glutes and hamstrings, the quads and even the gastrocnemius muscle of the calf. However, done improperly, they can strain the back and knees. When doing squats with an exercise ball placed between the small of your back and the wall proper form is easier to maintain. Try to lower to the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, making sure that your feet are placed hip-width apart and far enough from the wall that the knees will not extend beyond the toes.
Exercises to Avoid
As seniors often suffer from osteopenia -- bone thinning -- or osteoporosis -- loss of bone density, it's a good idea to avoid exercises involving spinal flexion, twisting or extension. Spinal flexion would be your standard crunch. Twisting would be a bicycle or any exercise touching the elbow to the opposite knee. Extension would be any exercise that tilts the pelvis back. Exercisers of all ages should engage in strength training at least twice per week but never work the same muscles on consecutive days. If you have arthritis, don't work during flare-ups.