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By Coach John Hughes

Note that the title is “Physical Activities” not “Exercises” because multi-component activities are more like activities of daily living than exercise programs.

In a recent column I discussed Anti-Aging: New Exercise Recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2na edition from the US Department of Health and Human Services. These are very similar to the American College of Sports Medicine recommendations. In sum the recommendations are:

  1. Aerobics: For cardiovascular health at least 30 minutes a day most days of moderate aerobic activities totaling at least 2:30 hours per week; or 1:15 of vigorous aerobic activity a week; or a combination.
  2. Muscle strength training: To prevent atrophy muscle-strengthening activities of involving all the major muscle groups. Two or three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes per day.
  3. Balancing exercises: To improve activities of daily living and to reduce the risk of falling. At least two or three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes per day.
  4. Stretching/flexibility exercises: Keep the flexibility necessary for regular physical activity and the activities of daily living. At least two or three days per week for 10 – 15 minutes a day.
  5. Weight-bearing: To maintain strong bones to reduce the risk of injury from a fall. At least 30 to 60 minutes a day three to five days a week.

The Physical Activity Guidelines continue, “As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activities. … Multicomponent refers to physical activity that includes more than one type of physical activity, such as aerobic, muscle strengthening and balance training. … Research demonstrates that multicomponent physical activity programs are most successful at reducing falls and injuries.”

Benefits of Multi-component Activities

efficient use of time

You’re already riding for at least the minimum amount of aerobic activity and probably more. Doing the minimum amounts to meet the #2 – #5 guidelines as separate activities takes at least three hours a week and as much as 8:45 a week if you do the recommended maximums for each type. You don’t want to cut back on your riding so how can you fit in #2 – #5?

A simple example is using free weights instead of machines for strength training. Exercise scientists using the latest research recommend squats. (New York Times The Power of the Squat) Squats with some sort of load (a backpack with canned goods, holding containers of kitty litter, dumbbells, a barbell, etc.) are simultaneously strength training and weight-bearing. Split squats and lunges also work on balance. In addition to your legs, squats train your core and your upper back, help maintain the flexibility, stability and function of your hips, knees and ankles and work on your balance. If done correctly squats aren’t bad for your joints. I explain how to do squats in this column: Anti-Aging: 4 Essential Year-Round Home Resistance Exercises

Improve activities of daily living.

Many of your activities of daily living are multi-component, eg, getting up from the toilet without using your arms requires both strength and balance. Putting something heavy on a high shelf uses strength and dynamic balance. Reaching down to pick up something off the floor requires core strength, flexibility and balance.

Realistic.

You don’t do bicep curls or deltoid military presses in real life. You do use your biceps and delts when you put your bike on top of the car or lift a bag of groceries to the counter.

Convenient.

Many multi-component activities require no equipment and can be easily incorporated into your daily activities. You don’t have to do the 20 to 30 minutes of strength training all at the same time. Or 20 to 30 minutes of balance or 20 – 30 minutes of weight bearing. Eg, instead of using a cart from the grocery store to the, car carry your groceries. Walk to the car placing each heel right in front of the other toes. When you get to your car you’ve done five minutes of strength, balance and weight-bearing activity.

Reduce risks of failure.

You’re walking, don’t anticipate a curb and lose your balance when you step off. The simultaneous use of your core strength and balance will help you not to fail. If you’re jostled, not falling requires strength to resist the other person as well as balance.

How to Do multi-component Activities

Combine types of exercises.

Variations of squats as explained above improve your leg strength, balance and bone strength.

  • Standing on one foot for an upper body exercise works on strength, balance and even bone strength because all of the load is just on one leg.
  • Closing your eyes to do any standing exercise challenges your balance.
  • Sitting on your exercise ball while doing upper body exercises also strengthens your core and improves your balance.
  • Use a Bosu ball, which you can buy on Amazon or use at a gym. One side of a Bosu ball is a hard flat surface and the other side is flexible and curved. You can use it for simultaneous strength and balance training. With the flat side of the ball on the floor you do split squats with your forward foot on the curved flexible surface. Or stand on the ball and do squats holding dumbbells. Or put the curved side down, put your hands on the flat side and do push-ups.

Use activities of daily living.

  • Reduces knee pain descending stairs. Here’s an example of how to walk down stairs to reduce pain in your knees. Pain underneath the knee cap (patella) is called chondromalacia, the softening and breakdown of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. When you bend your knee the kneecap isn’t cushioned so it presses against the femur and it hurts. A physical therapist taught me step-offs to strengthen the head of the quadriceps so the quads lift the kneecap and keep the kneecap in alignment as the knee bends, which lessens the pressure on the kneecap. Start by practicing this. Stand with both feet on a bench or step. Extend your right leg. Flex your left knee as if you’re about to step down. Go down until your left knew is bent only 20 to 30 degrees and stand back up. Initially hold on to something for balance. Progress to doing these without holding on to anything. You’re strengthening the heads of your quads and glutes and simultaneously working on balance. Aim for 20 reps with each leg. When you can do 20 reps progress to slowly walking down stairs this way by lowering yourself with the upper legs.
  • Or strengthen your bones walking down stairs. Increased strength results from increased overload. Activities with higher impact, eg, jogging increase bone strength more than lower impact activities such as walking. Instead of doing step-offs and lowering yourself under control, plunge off each step to increase the impact of your foot landing on the lower step.
  • Practice balance while doing chores. While sweeping the floor you can improve your balance. Instead of just stepping along, tighten your core, stand on your right foot and move your left foot out without stepping down on it. Slowly shift your center of gravity while staying balanced and step onto your foot. Standing in a line while shopping lift one foot slightly off the floor and balance on the other foot.

Enjoy recreational activities.

  • Dancing is fun and also works on balance, coordination of your limbs and bone strength.
  • Tai chi improves your balance as well as maintaining strength and flexibility. (Harvard Health: The health benefits of tai chi) Yoga has similar benefits.
  • In the US 4.8 million people play pickleball, almost double the number since five years ago. Pickleball improves your balance and bone strength as well as both leg and upper body strength. This short YouTube video explains the game. Sports like racquetball and basketball are also multi-component.
  • Gardening requires flexibility and core strength, improves your balance and also works on upper body and lower body strength.
  • Cycling improves your dynamic balance. Put on loaded panniers and work on leg strength. However, don’t try to integrate additional multi-component activities with cycling, which could result in a crash.

Use your imagination to invent other multi-component activities. To work on leg strength and balance for skiing a friend does one-leg squats while brushing his teeth.

I’ve written many columns on the different recommended types of activities.

Strength exercises

Balance

flexibility

Weight-bearing

Moderate aerobic exercise

Vigorous aerobic exercise

My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes detailed chapters on strength training, balance and weight-bearing exercises, as well as aerobic, high intensity aerobic, and flexibility exercises. The exercises are illustrated with 24 photos. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I combine the six training modalities (aerobic, intense aerobic, strength, weight bearing, balance and flexibility) into a four-season annual plan. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.


Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.

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