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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hand Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

In addition to maintaining mobility and being able to age in place, retaining hand and grip strength can make a huge difference in the independence and longevity of aging seniors. Being able to use your hands can mean the difference between feeding yourself and having to be feed, or between using your phone or having to have someone make calls for you, for example.

Some natural deterioration in hand health accompanies aging including loss of skin elasticity, reduced bone density, nerve degeneration, decreased dexterity, weakness in grip and pinch strength, as well as reduced blood flow and fingernail changes. Obstructive medical conditions can exacerbate hand weakness and loss of use - these may include:
  • Arthritis - painful joint inflammation in one or more hands can make gripping, flexing, and using your hands and fingers much more difficult.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome - numbness, tingling, or pain in the wrist, hand, and fingers can result from pressure being put on the median nerve from the narrowing of the carpal tunnel in the wrist.
  • Tendonitis - inflammation of tendons, typically in or around the thumb, can bring on this type of painful tendonitis localized to the hand.  
  • Trigger finger - tendon irritation that causes a locking or painful popping can limit finger movement and cause painful inflammation.
While some conditions like rheumatoid arthritis cannot necessarily be prevented by exercise and lifestyle changes, symptoms can be mitigated by them, and it only benefits seniors to focus some exercise and strength training on the hands. Don’t miss these important hand health-boosting activities:

Forearm Exercises
Did you know that you don’t actually have any muscles in your hands, only tendons, ligaments, and bones? The muscles which control your finger movement and grip are actually located in your arm, so exercising and strengthening them is key. A forearm workout tool should be lightweight, portable, and effective at helping seniors stretch and reinforce key arm muscles that control grip and pinch strength. Some forearm workout tools are spring-loaded and look the handles of common household tools like pliers or shears, while others are ring-shaped and squeezable like stress balls. You can find forearm workout tools online or in some big box stores and sporting goods stores.

Yoga for the Hands
Can a mindfulness low-impact exercise like yoga, with its deep breathing and meditation, truly help improve your hand health and strength? Absolutely. Yoga practice helps fortify the connection between the body and mind which pairs well with hand exercises that rely so greatly on brain and eye coordination. Yoga exercises for the hand may include simple reflex stimulation, targeted stretching, and applying pressure between fingers as you touch them to each other in what are known as “Mudras.” Yoga is also known for helping to boost blood flow and loosen joints, which can additionally aid arthritis sufferers.

Hand Movements
Routinely practicing basic movements and exercising with items you find around the home can bolster arm/hand strength and help you maintain range of motion. These types of movements include exercises like wrist rolls - holding a small canned good with elbows bent at your sides, forearms out, and palms facing up, bend your wrists to curl your hands forwards towards your body and back. You may also use a rubber band wrapped around your thumb and fingers to practice mini resistance stretches, or simply squeeze a stress ball or tennis ball at regular intervals throughout the day.

Final Considerations
Using functional fitness to maintain your dexterity and a strong grip and pinch strength will largely benefit day to day tasks that are critical but which you may barely think twice about - brushing your teeth, picking up grocery bags, using the TV remote, or typing a text message on your phone. It’s critical to not wait until your hand strength starts to give out, but rather to start exercising now while you still have muscles and tendons to tone and flexibility in your fingers and wrist.

Practicing fine motor skills requires the routine use of the hands and fingers and bears its own health benefits including reducing risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive decline. Hand strength and functionality play a key role in helping seniors recover from debilitating conditions too like stroke or mobility impairment which requires them to grip a walker or cane.

This is a guest blog entry.

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