The current and upcoming generations of retirees seek options to enhance their lifestyle choices. While many would prefer to retire in a home where they have lived for decades, living active and independent lives. New options in retirement planning allow seniors to age in place within a retirement community. These communities feature the independence of home but with the reassurance of additional assistance through each phase of aging. Nearly two in 10 Americans aged 70 and older state that they either cannot, or find it difficult, to live independently and accomplish daily tasks without help.
Activities for Everyone
Modern retirement communities can help older adults help themselves. Senior living communities enable their residents to experience a wide range of lifestyle choices. Research has found that active and healthy seniors in assisted living communities went outside more than those living in their own homes and engaged more with their peers. Many who move into a retirement community realize that they are living more independently. With a wide range of dining options and social engagement programs, seniors discover that independence means more than just living outside of a retirement community.
These living communities have common areas to encourage socialization and plan activities and outings for residents. Others who have no desire to socialize, enjoy private living in a home setting where they can have guests at their leisure.
No More Chores
Aside from keeping up with social engagements, a retirement community often takes the burden out of dangerous chores, or just those that become more difficult as we age. While most active seniors are capable of small chores, such as sweeping or changing a light bulb, a retirement community provides a full staff for larger tasks, such as mowing the lawn, clearing gutters, or appliance maintenance. Another benefit of having an entire team within a retirement community is that as a seniors’ ability to accomplish chores deteriorates, there is always someone on hand to provide all levels of assistance, without the senior leaving their home within the community.
While staying in a home where one has lived for thirty or forty years might be comfortable, as we age, it might not be as safe as it once was. Stairs could become more complicated, narrow hallways cannot accommodate walkers, tile floors are slippery, and shelves might be harder to reach. Making home renovations to accommodate our abilities as we age can become costly and overwhelming. When living in a retirement community, these features are built into every home and public area. They include ramps for exterior stairs, wider doorways to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs, indoor threshold ramps, slip-proof floors, and safety rails. Residents may also choose to install a walk-in shower or bathtub.
How Can We Help?
Kennybrook Village offers a high level of service and support for active seniors, those who need a little more assistance, and residents who require a higher level of long-term care. Independent living residents can enjoy a productive and engaging social life while moving at one’s own pace and with full maintenance staff, none of the concerns of traditional homeownership. Our pet-friendly residences feature expansive, light-filled floor plans with full kitchens, in-unit laundry, and complimentary outdoor parking. When residents move into a phase of life that requires more assistance, we offer a higher level of support for those daily activities. We can assist with everything from dressing and bathing to around-the-clock skilled nursing care.
By the time you finish this sentence, three older Americans have fallen. And those falls are dangerous. According to the CDC, an adult 65 years or older falls each second, and that is the number one cause of injuries and death from injury among older Americans. The financial impact of those falls is shocking — $67.7 billion by 2020. CDC Director Tom Frieden said, “Older adult falls are increasing and, sadly, often herald the end of independence.”
Whether your loved one lives independently and is in good health or your loved one is showing signs of slowing down, you need to know what levels of care are available for them. Eventually, they will need extra help. Maybe not tomorrow. Or next week. But maybe in a few years, your mom or dad will start to forget basic things like the day of the week or who the United States’ president is. This is why you need to know what kind of assistance is available.
There are generally four levels of care: independent living, assisted living, short-term rehab, long-term care. Because your loved one’s needs will eventually change, you need to know the answers to questions like “What’s included in assisted living?” and “What does the day of an independent living resident look like?” With this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to help them make the best decisions for their future.
Keep reading to meet June (an independent living resident), John (an assisted living resident), Linda (a short-term rehab resident), and Roger (a long-term care resident).
A Day in the Life — June Wessell, 77 years old
June and her dog, Lady, live in a 1-bedroom apartment inside a senior living community, and her days begin at 7 a.m. After sipping coffee on her small patio, June takes her dog on a walk. During the spring, they walk outside. But if snow is on the ground, they stay indoors. As she passes her neighbors, she often stops to chat about yesterday’s events and the day’s activities. When the two-mile walk is over, June and Lady take a quick break in their apartment before the chapel Bible study at 10 a.m.
At lunch, June sits in her usual seat with her four closest community friends. They reminisce about the good ole days —5¢ Coke drinks and drive-in movies.
At 2 p.m., June listens to a local school’s choir in her community’s event room. Later that afternoon, her two grandchildren visit, and they play their favorite board game Monopoly.
After dinner, June and Lady enjoy reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy before starting the bedtime routine at 8:30 p.m.
As you can see from June’s story, independent living residents don’t need any assistance with daily activities. They’re able to exercise, cook, and do anything they want to do all on their own. Most independent living communities offer many activities and encourage their residents to maintain an active lifestyle. With minimal housekeeping and no internal or external maintenance responsibilities, independent living residents can maximize their retirement by not being bogged down with the inconvenient tasks of homeownership.
Since these private living spaces are for older adults who don’t require assistance, you’ll find amenities like a washer and dryer, patio, and a full-service kitchen just like you would find in a small apartment.
Also, independent living residents are typically offered:
Restaurant-style lunch & continental breakfast
Emergency response pendant system
Transportation to scheduled activity outings
All-inclusive utilities (except phone)
Washer and dryer
Individually-controlled central heating and cooling system
Complimentary outdoor parking (underground parking is available for an additional fee)
Full kitchen with modern appliances
A Word from a Team Member
Chelsea Freie, the marketing director at Terrace Glen Village, says, “Our independent living residents are full of energy and always involved in community events. Many of them do some of our best marketing work by telling their friends about us because they love living here. Occasionally they’ll need assistance when their television stops working or a light bulb that needs replacing is out of reach. But, for the most part, they live their own lives and have a lot of activities outside of this community.”
To learn about independent living options, call (515) 369-3900 or click here.
A Day in the Life — John Greene, 89
In his 553 sq. ft., 1-bedroom apartment, John begins each day by watching the morning news. Sometimes he forgets where he last placed the remote so when a nurse checks in on him every morning, they help John find it. He eats breakfast in the assisted living dining room and usually eats cheerios, yogurt, or scrambled eggs.
John loves the morning activities so you can typically find him in the activity room making a new knickknack or craft. At lunchtime, a certified medication aide helps John take his diabetes medicines with the appropriate amount of liquids and food. In the afternoon, John rides to his doctor’s apartment via the community bus where he and the bus driver usually have the same conversation each trip.
Throughout the day, John keeps his emergency response pendant system around his neck in case he needs immediate help because he does struggle with dementia. While he’s out of his apartment, community team members go into his apartment and wash his clothes, replace the linens, and clean and dust. John needs assistance bathing and dressing so a nurse always helps him take care of those needs.
Assisted living residents need some help with daily activities like bathing, dressing, and taking the right medications at the right times. Although these residents are given more assistance than independent living residents, they’re still encouraged to be as independent as possible.
Most communities offer the following amenities for assisted living residents:
Spacious 1- or 2-bedroom apartments
Three restaurant-style meals
Emergency response pendant system
Wellness checks and a service plan supervised by a registered nurse
Kitchenette with a refrigerator and a microwave
Transportation to scheduled activity outings and appointments
All-inclusive utilities ( (except phone)
Weekly housekeeping, laundry, and linen services
Individually-controlled central heating and cooling system
Complimentary outdoor parking (underground parking is available for an additional fee)
A Word from a Team Member
Jill Lamb, the marketing director at Colonial Village, says, “Some of our most active residents live in the assisted living part of our campus. Just because they need help with a few tasks doesn’t mean they aren’t active and engaged. If you’re thinking about moving your loved one into an assisted living community, don’t think you would be limiting their independence. In an assisted living community, they have more independence with a team member’s help, and they can enjoy life more.”
To learn about assisted living options, call (515) 369-3900 or click here.
A Day in the Life — Linda Blackburn, 58
Linda lives in a three-story house with her husband of 31 years, but she fell and broke her leg while walking down the front porch steps on an icy day. So after successful surgery, Linda was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in hopes to return home within a few weeks. At this facility, Linda works through physical therapy each day with a licensed physical therapist. She receives three daily meals and is visited by the community medical doctor each week.
Since this facility is Medicare-approved and certified, Linda will only pay for her stay after the 20th day (as long as she is making progress). After five weeks of slow and steady improvement, Linda returned home.
While the above example is very specific, short-term rehabilitation offers other kinds of therapy like occupational and speech therapy. Each therapist works with the patient on their specific needs and goals because everyone’s rehab situation is different.
Most communities offer the following amenities for short-term rehab residents:
Judy Baxter, the marketing director at Westchester Village of Lenexa, says, “I’m so thankful our community offers short-term rehabilitation because I am inspired by those who work hard in their therapy to eventually return home. The nice thing about a continuing care retirement community where short-term rehab is included is that an independent living resident who might fall and break a bone can receive rehab right down the hall — they don’t have to worry about moving to a new community because it’s all under one roof.”
To learn about short-term rehab options, call (515) 369-3900 or click here.
A Day in the Life — Roger Hutchins, 84
Roger’s stroke made daily tasks like showering, trips to the restroom, eating, and changing clothes especially difficult. His stroke also worsened his Alzheimer’s symptoms. So Roger’s family moved him to a long-term care facility where the staff could give him 24-hour skilled nursing care. Each day, Roger uses their help to eat, bathe, and change clothes.
His favorite part of the day is the afternoon walk in the courtyard. A nurse will help Roger transfer to a wheelchair, and Roger is pushed through the courtyard for about 20 minutes. The facility does a great job scheduling events for their long-term care residents, and Roger enjoys those events every day before dinner. He especially loves listening to the local elementary school choir sing holiday songs each December.
Long-term care is for those who are unable to perform daily activities on their own like eating, bathing, dressing, etc. Ultimately, the purpose of long-term care is to help the resident maintain their lifestyle as they age. Medicare usually does not cover long-term care costs.
Most communities offer the following amenities for long-term care residents:
Summer English, the marketing director at Northridge Village, says, “Even though our long-term care residents need a lot of assistance in their daily lives, they still share so much joy. They teach me each day how to enjoy life to the fullest.”
To learn about long-term care options, call (515) 369-3900 or click here.
One of the greatest lessons we learned from 2020 was how to use technology to our advantage. Programs like Facetime and Zoom brought families and friends close together when distance and safety inhibited gatherings. While there is nothing better than physically being next to your loved ones, technology has proven…
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Grimes, Iowa – Kennybrook Village earned five-star ratings in each Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rating category during their 2020 annual survey. Kennybrook Village’s Executive Director Ryan Stuck
Exploring the Differences and Determining What’s Right For You
What’s in a name? Great question. Medicare and Medicaid sound very similar, but their names give little in the way of answers. When it comes to insurance, the fine print can often make heads spin. Even if you still have health coverage through your employer or your spouse, it is important to know how these programs may relate to you now or in the future.
You may already be eligible for some of these services, you may have been paying into these services each tax year, or maybe you are already enrolled but want a few more details to make sure you’re in the right place. Learning more about these two programs will hopefully point you in the right direction and encourage you to make sure you have the coverage that fits your needs.
Medicaid vs Medicare 101
So what is the difference? Medicare is a federal program that offers coverage to adults aged 65 and over, as well as individuals with certain disabilities. Medicaid is a state and federal program, offering free or low-cost health care to low-income individuals and families. These programs are very different but can be used simultaneously, independently, or not at all depending on your preferences and needs.
All adults become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. You may automatically be enrolled if you are already getting Social Security benefits or if you have been receiving disability benefits for 24 months. If you are automatically enrolled, you will receive your card in the mail when eligible and will be enrolled in Part A and Part B. You will need to contact Medicare if you don’t want Plan B coverage, as there are often premiums attached that you will be responsible for.
If you aren’t automatically enrolled, you will need to enroll during your enrollment window unless you are still covered by another policy. Joining or amending your policy outside of these dates may not be possible or may incur penalties. You can enroll online, in person, or over the phone with your local Medicare office.
Medicare is an individual policy. Many spouses have shared insurance policies throughout their lives and may make the assumption that one spouse being enrolled means the other is covered as well, which is untrue. Please be sure that you are actually enrolled if you are counting on Medicare as your coverage.
Medicare has several different parts, allowing you to customize for your needs. Part A is mainly hospital cover but also can cover short-term skilled nursing care, hospice, and home healthcare.
If you or your spouse have been paying into Medicare through your employer for a minimum of 10 years, Part A is completely free. If you haven’t been paying into Medicare, there will be premiums attached. You can use this calculator to determine what your expected premiums could be. Depending on the size of their premiums, some people opt not to use Medicare for their coverage.
Part B covers medical services like ambulance service, medical equipment, doctor’s visits, and outpatient care. It also covers preventative medicine like vaccinations or diagnostic testing.
Most people will opt to have at least Part A and Part B coverage when using Medicare, but keep in mind that you will likely have to pay a premium for Part B services. There are often co-pays and deductibles to meet with Part B services as well. These can be offset by Medicaid if you qualify or by purchasing Medigap insurance. If your needs change, add or remove Part B during open enrollment in order to avoid penalty fees.
Part D is for prescription drug coverage. This is an optional add-on that covers you for, you guessed it, prescription drugs. This policy will also include monthly premiums, which can vary quite a bit. If you do elect to add this on, be sure to do it during open enrollment to avoid penalty fees.
Medigap is offered through private companies, and it helps pay for some of the extras not covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. Some even can include health coverage while you travel outside of the States! They don’t usually cover those extras like vision, dental, or hearing aids, and they never include prescription drugs.
Keep in mind that you must have Medicare Part A and Part B in order to have a Medigap policy. You pay a monthly premium in addition to your Part B premium for the service.
Medicare Advantage Plans or Part C
Medicare Advantage Plans are offered by private companies as an all-in-one bundle. Medicare pays these companies for your care, and in exchange, they follow a host of rules in covering you. These companies are approved by Medicare and their policies include the benefits of Part A, Part B, and often Part D. Some will cover the extras like vision and dental as well.
As these plans are offered in the private market, some different rules about coverage can apply. It is best to learn the ins and outs of your policy, your fees, and your coverage and keep on top of them as they can change year to year. One rule that is true across the board, however, is that you cannot have a Medigap policy with a Medicare Advantage Plan. If anyone tries to sell you this, please report them as it is illegal.
Medicaid offers insurance coverage for low-income earners at any age. Since it is funded and run at both the state and federal level, the strict income requirements for eligibility vary by state. These programs are generally free or at least come at a low cost, variables which are decided by your income level and state of residence. You can apply for Medicaid through the Health Insurance Marketplace during open enrollment or through your own State Medicaid agency.
Typically, Medicaid covers hospitalization, lab services, clinic treatment, pediatrics, x-rays, and family planning. Each state can decide if it wants to cover extras like vision, dental, prosthetics, and physical therapy. You can check online for a more comprehensive list of coverage details as it relates to your state.
Once you turn 65, if you were already covered by Medicaid you may still qualify for coverage even after you join Medicare. Medicaid would then pay your Plan B premiums or possibly still offer you full benefits. It also can be used to cover long-term care for patients with depleted savings.
No matter where you fall in the insurance spectrum, it’s important to remember to check your policy each year. Laws have been changing rampantly in the insurance space. But also as you approach each new phase of life, you may find your own needs or financial situation changing each year as well. And if you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, rules can change annually. Keep on top of your needs and make sure that you are still being covered by the program that is right for you from year to year.
And, most importantly, it is impossible to be an insurance expert unless you are an insurance expert. There is no shame in hiring one to help you navigate the choices you need to make when deciding on a coverage. Insurance is undoubtedly complicated, however, it is also immensely important through all stages of life. Knowing the basics helps you ask smart questions and can move you in the right direction, but an expert hand may be on order to make sure your confidence in your coverage is where you want it to be.
Ideas of activities for seniors to enjoy this spring
A new season is a great opportunity to form new habits. And, really, what better season is there for a new beginning than spring. Symbolically, of course, this season represents new life. But practically, spring removes some of the challenges of winter with the promise of better weather and more activities going on around town. This is the perfect time to adopt a new interest — possibly one that gets your heart pumping and definitely one that gets you outside.
Getting up and out is important for building and maintaining health, strength, and good morale. Moving the body helps with strength, mobility, and endorphins. But even if moving isn’t an option for you, think about the Vitamin D! This vitamin, both ingestible but also obtained by exposure to the sun, plays a role in calcium absorption for bone health and possibly even immunity from colds and flu. And don’t underestimate the simple joy of a breath of fresh air.
After winter, we can feel a bit sluggish from a period of hibernation. Use the ideas below to inspire a little spring in your step this season.
Go for a walk
This one is simple enough in concept, and yet it can be hard to work up the motivation to get out there and do it. Sometimes it takes an extra nudge to increase the excitement level of the task. The list below will give you some ways of reframing what it is to take a walk and will have you ready to lace up your walking shoes.
Make a date with someone to walk with you. If they can’t make it, bring them along on your phone!
Walk your dog or borrow someone else’s dog.
Go to a dog park and enjoy watching them play.
Listen to music or a podcast while you walk.
Drive or grab a ride to a different neighborhood and take in a new view.
Take a guided walking tour of your town. Sometimes it’s fun to be a tourist where you live! If a tour is too much time on your feet, look for an open air tour bus in town to take you to the sites.
Take up photography and shoot what you see as you explore.
Check out a zoo or an outdoor art exhibit.
Go to a garden or arboretum. This will give you a chance to stop and smell the roses.
If you take public transport or get rides from someone, ask to be dropped off a little early and walk the rest of the way home.
Choose a farmer’s market over the grocery store. Fresher produce is an added bonus.
Grab a treat: an ice cream can be an excellent excuse to get out of the house on a nice day.
What do Tai chi, strength training, yoga, cardio, and stretching all have in common? They can be done outside! If you’re taking an exercise class at your CCRC or local gym, recommend to your instructor to move class outside for the day if there’s a safe lawn that can be used. You may find a new environment may also make your work out more stimulating as well!
Bring your group outside
Are you part of a book club or a weekly card game? Why not move it outside? There’s no reason to sit inside with spring in full bloom when you’re one table and a few chairs away from a delightful afternoon experience outdoors.
Look for parks with tables and chairs, community lawns, building courtyards, or ask someone to give you a hand setting up the ideal space outside of your residence. The change of scenery will possibly bring new energy to a group that meets regularly. Also, pick activities where there aren’t too many physical things to arrange. A puzzle would be a huge bummer to start only to have to pack back up halfway through!
Can’t motivate a group to get together? Bring your crossword, afternoon tea, or favorite book outside and enjoy the breeze yourself!
Springtime brings an abundance of activities outdoors to be enjoyed in the nice weather. Depending on your town, there will be a range of different things on offer. You may find outdoor theatre events, music performances, sporting events, food festivals, or craft fairs from time to time throughout the spring and into the summer.
Keep an eye on the sections of the paper that list events of interest to you, and pay close attention to any outside events; it can be a fresh way to enjoy something you already love.
Winter automatically gets us off the wagon of doing our hobbies that live outside. But spring is the perfect opportunity to hop back on the wagon. Do you fish? Garden? Birdwatch? Getting back into these hobbies will keep your skills up but will also bring enjoyment.
If none of these hobbies relate to you, perhaps consider taking on a new one! Learning something new keeps the mind sharp, and nothing bridges the gap of a new social group than a shared hobby or interest.
Most of these activities can be also be done with a walker, wheelchair, or a companion — so if it’s safe to do, you have a great reason to get out there and see the world through the lens of spring! Remember, the goal here isn’t complicated. Even if your new commitment this spring is to simply request the table outside for lunch, make sure you’re finding a way to get in the fresh air that works for you. You won’t regret taking that time for yourself.
Part four of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good
The culmination of this four-part series on relieving back pain focuses on stability in functional movement. The exercises you’ve learned in isolation will take you far in terms of strength and flexibility, but the key is to make sure that their benefits are integrating into daily movement. So many injuries or physical aggravations come from overuse or misuse of the body in unconscious daily movement. By the end of this article, you will have great new tools to practice that will help you carry yourself through your day more safely and hopefully pain-free.
Starting simple, let’s look at the benefit of exercise balls. You can construct an entire regimen around these handy workout helpers. They are a low-impact way of adding a little extra challenge to daily exercises because they challenge your stability. Any time we can teach the core to join the party of simple or gross movements, the better. Core stabilization protects the spine, encourages safe posture, and helps prevent falls.
The easiest way to incorporate the benefits of an exercise ball into your daily life won’t even require you to take time out for exercise. Use your exercise ball as a chair! While reading a book, eating a snack, working on the computer, or doing any other seated task, if you can do so safely you may as well do it while sitting on a ball! These daily tasks often distract us from thinking about good things like posture and core engagement, so the exercise ball encourages that activation and aids in developing new physical habits while doing everyday activities.
Another great way to utilize the exercise ball is to replace a chair with a ball in any of your seated exercises. In Part Two and Part Three of this series, we’ve given you several seated exercises to try. Substituting for a ball, amps up the challenge level of these exercises, so feel free to have a wall or a chair back nearby to aid with balance if needed.
Single Limb Balance
This exercise is mostly focused on the stability of the ankles but is a great way to incorporate a bit of hip flexor stretching if you would like to consolidate your exercises. Our feet are the base of our stance, and as we stand or walk, instability at the base can introduce risk. Functional use of the ankles improves balance, which will not only support good posture but also prevents slips, which limits the possibility of tweaking your lower back.
Holding onto the back of a chair or the wall, lift your right leg and balance on your left. Feeling wobbly on your ankle is completely normal, and letting the wobbles happen teaches your ankle its safe range of motion and helps it to stabilize. Repeat the same exercise on the other side.
If you are finding this easy and would like to incorporate the hip flexor stretch, bend the right knee and lift the heel back and up toward your glutes. You can hold on to the top of your foot with your right hand to aid with the stretch. You can also increase the challenge by taking your hands away from the chair or wall. Notice that with time the wobbles decrease and your balance improves.
Large Side Step
This is a great exercise for making sure your core is doing all the right work for you while making larger movements through space. Not only will the strength element help stabilize your spine, but working with balance also helps prevent future injury caused by unsupported movement.
You can start this one with your feet together and hands down, or on your hips if you struggle with balance. Pretend that there is a laundry basket next to you, and lift your right knee high and step your right foot out to the side over the imaginary basket. Plant your foot on the ground and use the same movement to bring your left foot to join the right. You can then repeat on the other side, stepping back over the basket the other way. Do five on each side.
If this is a challenge for you, feel free to hold on to a chair while making the move. The goal here is to make sure everything that you need to support balance and coordination is firing while you move, so be sure to think about activating the core muscles we’ve been strengthening.
Stand to Sit
We are now going to work the functional integration of your core and leg muscles into sitting standing. These everyday movements actually can introduce risk if not done safely and are commonly painful if you already struggle with lower back pain. The goal here is to make sure you are moving in a safe and supported way when getting into and out of a chair.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and have something nearby to hold on to if you need help with balance. Slowly lower your hips back into a chair, trying to make the landing gentle and controlled. Thinking about pressing into the heels as you sit will activate your upper leg muscles and give your descent that extra bit of support. After a pause, press into your feet and slowly stand up while taking care to keep your upper body in the same position. Think about core activation as your move in and out of your chair 10 times.
Make sure that this level of muscular engagement is involved any time you are sitting and standing. Check in with yourself as you are doing your ball exercises that you are engaging as you sit. When sitting down to dinner, be sure that you are not flopping into chairs or twisting your way out of them. The goal here is to bring what we learn in our exercises to our daily movement to decrease physical vulnerability and increase strength.
Each installment of this four-part series is extremely helpful for preventing and reversing back pain, and all can be utilized daily or in a rotation to be part of a well-rounded regimen. Sometimes, stretching will be called for more than strengthening. Perhaps eventually more challenging exercises will need to be introduced when you are feeling strong. No matter where you are in the process, what is most important is listening to your body and knowing what healthy movement feels like. Focusing on functional stability will show you where your weaknesses are and you can be the master of your own well-being by applying the exercises needed to reverse those weaknesses. Remember that our bodies are designed to work, and giving our bodies the love and support they need throughout all movement, big and small, allows us to work with our bodies to be able to walk through life safely and pain-free!
Part three of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good
When dealing with back pain, it is easy to focus on the symptom without addressing a foundational cause. The truth is, one of the most influential factors in all injury but most especially in back pain is core strength. The core supports and stabilizes the spine, which becomes even more crucial as we age. If the larger muscle groups that are meant to be doing the hard work aren’t firing the way they should be, the job ends up getting dumped on connective tissue which is already weakening with age. We want our spine to be supported with strong, healthy core muscles for optimum function and minimal pain. These simple exercises will go a long way in improving stability, range of motion, and reducing lower back pain.
This exercise works the upper abdominals and the rectus-abdominis which are the superficial core muscles that get the most attention in core work. You’ve likely worked these before, but this time try to move mindfully rather than relying on momentum to do the work for you. Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Engage your core muscles as you slowly lift your head and shoulders off the floor a few inches. The goal is not height here, but focusing on slow movement with effort in the core. If you feel gripping in your neck or shoulders, you have come up too high. Stay for a breath, and then roll down slowly and mindfully, keeping the core engaged until your head touches the ground. Repeat 5 times.
Extended Table Top
With this exercise, we are focusing on stabilization and keeping the core engaged through movement. This exercise begins on all fours in a position called table top. You may like to put a towel under your knees for extra support. You’ll begin with a deep engagement in your core, and slowly extend your right leg out behind you and slightly off the ground. When that feels stable, add the challenge of extending your left arm forward at the same time. Stay for 2 rounds of breath before returning to table top. Then you’ll move on to the other side, doing 3 reps on each side.
If this gets to be a lot on your wrists, take a break and stretch your wrists between each side. If you have yoga blocks, you can also use the block to bring the ground higher and rest your supporting forearm on the block for support rather than relying on your hands and wrists.
Leg lifts are a great way to engage your lower core, an area of the core that often gets less attention. Start lying on your back with your left leg bent and foot flat on the floor with your right leg extended out on the ground. Focus on keeping your lower back flat on the ground while you lift your right leg a few inches off the ground. Hold for a round of breath before slowly lowering your leg to the ground, being sure not to release your core or let your lower back lift from the ground until your leg touches the floor. Repeat five times before going on to the other side.
Once you’ve been practicing this exercise for awhile and have gotten some lower abdominal strength going, you can add to the challenge by turning this exercise into a leg lowering exercise. Starting on your back, with both legs up at ninety degrees and a slight bend in the knees. Slowly lower your right leg while keeping your lower back pressed down to the floor. At first, this may just be a lowering forty five degrees while you are focusing on keeping your hip flexors relaxed, core engaged and lower back on the floor. Slowly lift your leg back to meet the left leg before you switch sides. You can work your way up to lowering your leg a couple inches off the ground as long as your lower back doesn’t lift as you lower.
Seated Side Bends
Seated side bends focus on the obliques, which can be essential in helping with the stabilization of the spine. Start seated with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Find your core muscles engaged before you begin movement. Place your left hand behind your head while you lean to the right side, reaching your right arm down toward the floor. It doesn’t matter how far you go, you just want to be sure to focus on the left side body as you slowly contract your body back up to a seating position. Switch your arms and try on the other side. Repeat 3-5 times each side. Be sure to move with intention rather than allowing momentum to drive this exercise for maximum benefit.
While any of these exercises are great on their own, they each target a different part of the core and so work best when integrated together into a well-rounded workout routine. It is important to view core strength as the foundation of safe movement and it should be a non-negotiable in any workout regimen. The goal of this hard work is for your core strength to integrate into daily functional movement, which will be an essential part of preventing and reversing back pain and other injury.
Part one of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good
Back pain is extremely common amongst people from all walks of life. There are many contributing factors to this epidemic, everything from sitting too long to arthritis and cancer. That being said, the American Chiropractic Association voices that most cases of back pain are mechanical rather than caused by extreme illness or injury. This is great news for the average person with back pain, as this means there is something you can do to relieve your symptoms. While you should always check with a health practitioner before starting a new exercise regimen, this four-part series will give you tools to shift your back pain from the comfort of your own home.
You can do this while sitting or standing, but make sure you are practicing this one often as we will build upon it later in the series. Find a comfortable position seated either cross-legged on the floor, or with your feet flat on the floor sitting on a bed or chair. Keep your spine erect and your back unsupported if you are able. If you are standing, make sure the weight is even between your feet.
Slowly tilt your pelvis back, like you are trying to point your tailbone to the back of the room. Then reverse by bringing your tailbone toward the front of the room. Move within a range of motion that feels safe for you, and feel free to support yourself with your hands on your thighs while seated to move your hips freely. Take care not to tuck too far when bringing your tailbone forward, as shortening the hip flexors too much can have the reverse effect. Deepen the stretch by allowing the head to tilt slightly back as your curve your tailbone back, then release your head forward when you curve your tailbone forward.
Having trouble sitting? Try this lying in bed, with your knees bent up and your feet flat on your bed. You can practice your pelvic tilts in this position. You’ll even get the added benefit of a stretch through your lower back just by bringing your knees up to a bent position!
Find yourself in the same seated position, or if you are standing move to a chair or to the floor. Leaving your legs where they are, gently turn your body to the right side of the room. You can hold onto your right knee with your left hand and reach your right hand back as far as you can. Challenge yourself by trying to look all the way to the back wall of the room over your right shoulder. Stay for three rounds of breathing, using the exhale to relax deeper into the position. If you feel a straining feeling in your neck or back, ease out of the position a little. This should be a pleasant stretch and should be felt mostly on the left side of your body and across your lower back. When you’ve finished your three rounds of breathing, do the same thing on the other side.
Still joining us from your bed? With your knees in that same bent position, drop the knees gently to the right. If it is causing you strain to hold them there, prop a pillow under your knees to allow for a gentle stretch of your lower back. After three rounds of breathing, gently drop your knees to the other side. If you are feeling at all unstable in your sacroiliac joint, use your hands to bring your knees back to the center before you twist, focus on engaging your core as you move, and be sure to support your knees with the pillow while in the twist.
Hip Flexor Stretch
This stretch is essential for releasing lower back pain, but it can also be very challenging to actually accomplish, especially if you have limited mobility. If you are able to stand and balance easily, shift your weight on to your left leg and support yourself with your hands on a wall or the back of your chair. Gently extend your right leg behind you as far as feels safe or until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor. Repeat on the other side. Challenge yourself by bending your back leg and bringing your heel toward your buttocks. You can grab that back foot with your hand to deepen the stretch.
You can also do this stretch laying in bed. Lay on your left side and bend your left leg to help stabilize you. Gently extend your right leg behind you to stretch your hip flexor. If you can safely try bending your right knee and bringing your heel toward your buttock, you can get a deeper stretch. Take care to transition safely between sides as you switch to your right side to stretch your left hip flexor.
*Bonus: Tennis Ball Release
This feels amazing but can also be quite strong if your back is tender. Standing up with your back against the wall, place a tennis ball between the wall and your back on a knot or a sore spot you’d like to release. Lean back against the wall to apply pressure, and breathe deeply into the place you are releasing. This feels fantastic for the upper back between the shoulder blades as well as the lower back. If you’d like to try this sitting down, depending on the type of chair you have you can apply a similar principle using the back of the chair as your “wall” or sitting on the ground up against the wall.
This can also feel great laying down, although you do end up with much more body weight adding pressure to the ball so it is actually stronger laying down than standing up. If laying on the floor, place the ball underneath your lower back, the spot right above your buttock on either the right or left side feels fantastic for a release. If you are on a bed, place a book under the ball so the ball doesn’t sink into the mattress.
Here are some precautions with this one, as this can be a very deep release. Be sure that you are focusing on one side of the body at a time rather than placing the ball directly on the spine. Also, if you know you suffer from sacroiliac instability, place a pillow under the opposite hip as you release each side to support the sacroiliac joint.
The most important note: be sure to breathe. We can release so much tension with a good exhale.
Use these stretches any time you are feeling stiff, but also try to incorporate them into your daily routine. We will expand upon these exercises in the next installments of the series, so do your homework and enjoy the lower back release.
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