Gross Motor Activities for the Elderly
The benefits of regular exercise for older adults are many, but the unfortunate reality is, only about 31 percent of people age 65 to 74 participate in 20 minutes of physical activity at least three days of the week. When you don't exercise, your body can lose strength, your energy levels can decrease and your gross motor skills -- those that help you do basic activities such as walking -- can suffer. If your gross motor skills have been seriously impaired due to a stroke or other medical event, you should work with an occupational therapist or other health professional to regain the most basic skills such as dressing yourself, walking or cooking a meal. When you've gotten theses skills back, you can begin an exercise routine that will help you maintain your large muscle groups, which can benefit your gross motor skills. Just be sure that your doctor has cleared you for starting an exercise routine.
Start walking. Begin slowly, doing enough to elevate your heart rate and make you break a light sweat. Aim for walking around the block the first week or two, and then set a goal to walk 1/4 of a mile each time over the next two weeks. Work up to a 1/2 mile or longer after several weeks. Walking can be a huge benefit to your gross motor skills and overall health; even if you do nothing else, walking five days a week or more will strengthen your leg muscles and improve the flow of blood to your heart.
Walk up stairs, or try one step at a time. While this can be difficult, this exercise helps to maintain balance and coordination. Step up one step in your house, or use an exercise step, and then step back down. Repeat, starting with the other leg.
Hop back and forth to develop your balance and gain body control. Locate a line along the floor of your house or outside, and then practice hopping from one side of the line to the other. When that becomes easier, try jumping completely over an object, such as a book or a log outside.
Kick a ball. You may not have done this since you were a child, but it can be a fun way to help you gain muscle control. Place a rubber ball on the ground and aim for a target such as a spot on a fence or a doorway.
Throw a ball. Use the same target that you used to kick the ball to now work on your arm strength and muscle control. If you have grandchildren or other young people in your life, make tossing the ball back and forth into a fun activity that you can do together.
Stand on one foot, and then the other to help maintain and improve your balance. Have a chair or other stabilizing object nearby, in case you have to grab onto it.
Once you have worked through these activities and have developed some of your gross motor skills, try to incorporate strength training into your routine to further develop your muscle strength. Use dumbbells to do bicep curls, or do body-weight exercises such as leg lifts, squats and knee-assisted pushups.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.