Sweeping Your Driveway and Walk: The Perfect Exercise For Older Adults

Sweeping for exercise while aging-in-place.

Pick Up Your Broom and Head Outside - Sweeping as Exercise

The American Heart Association has some advice for seniors who are living independently. They say it you've hired people to do your chores, think again. Doing your own chores: 

• is a great way to exercise without realizing it
• builds and maintains your confidence in caring for yourself
• demonstrates your capability to those who care about you

Why not start outdoors? Ease your way into exercise, fresh air, and that 15 minutes-a-day of sunlight for Vitamin D. You don't even have to be a gardener to do this. Just grab a broom!

Sweeping the sidewalk and driveway can be a great way to celebrate your independence.

The Latest Exercise Craze Sweeping the Nation!

Believe it or not, the latest fitness craze sweeping the nation is... sweeping! Sweeping is an effective workout that will burn calories, promote metabolic fitness and muscle strength while keeping your floor and outdoor areas clean. It's an activity that anyone of any age can participate in, and enjoy the benefits. In fact, sweeping is an event in the winter Olympics... ever watch curling?

The best part? Sweeping can be done anywhere, indoors or out, anytime, and it requires no special equipment beyond a broom.

Of course, some brooms are better than others for sweeping outdoors. You'll want a broom with synthetic bristles, both stiff and soft. Synthetics will last longer when exposed to moisture from soil or small puddles on pavement from rain or sprinklers. Stiff bristles will capture and move larger particles, while soft bristles will grab the dust and small bits. 

Some of the Exercise Benefits of Sweeping

The simple act of sweeping your driveway can provide you with plenty of health benefits, especially as you age. 

• Work Your Core
Depending on the technique and type of broom, this functional workout trains different parts of the body and provides both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. The traditional straight broom emphasizes the abdominals and other core stabilizers. If you're using sweeping as exercise, start with a straight broom to warm up the core, then warm up the shoulders by using a stabbing motion to get the dirt out of corners. Then move onto the push broom for balanced fitness, front to back! It's a complete workout.

• Improve Balance
This is a significant benefit for those of us who are older. Using a push broom brings a greater variety of muscles into play. The repetitive lunge motion uses the gluteal and quadriceps as the pecs and triceps are primarily worked. When you pull the movement engages the hamstrings, lats, and biceps. This offers you a more complete workout as it improves the muscles used for balance.

• Lose Weight
To create maximum metabolic fitness, start with long slow movements where a true metabolic demand will increase fat burning. Starting slowly in your driveway with longer pushes increases your resting metabolic rate and helps keep your weight down.

The Importance of Warming Up

To get the maximum benefits, and prevent injury, it's always a good idea to start your chores with a quick session of stretching. Start with simple stretching exercises for the shoulders like the one illustrated here, from Fairview Health Services in Minnesota. 

Stretching is important for flexibility, especially as you get older. Stretching strengthens the fascia that connects muscles, tendons, and bones. And yes, you can do this on the porch or in the garage if you don't want to be caught “exercising!”

Keep in mind:

• As you start, be aware of the position of your spine. Stay gently upright and allow yourself to twist gently as you sweep. If you have brittle bones, take care to twist your body rather than your spine.
• Change your leading hand to enable both shoulders to gradually loosen and to engage the bicep muscles in both arms.
• Wear gloves. The broom handle can rotate a bit as you hold it and can cause blisters at the bottom of the thumb where it joins the web to the fingers.

When you are sweeping outside, your exercise goals are endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Start with a small area at first, then gradually increase the area that you clean regularly. You may want to sweep the porch and front sidewalk daily, sweep the driveway weekly as your ability increases.

Advanced Sweeping

As you build your endurance and sweeping becomes a habit, here are three ideas to get even more value from the time spent “exercising.” Add a bit more to your routine, perhaps resting the broom in front of you to do a squat alternating with every 10 sweeping motions.

• Plan your time outside to match the schedules of neighbors and enjoy some conversation while you sweep.
• Practice actively meditating, allowing the rhythms of sweeping to release tensions in your body and mindfully notice each action of the process. Recognize that each time you sweep will be different from previous times, that each event will be unique.

As we age, it's important to stay active to maintain our physical and mental health. The simple act of sweeping your driveway, walkway and porch can help to keep you active, flexible, confident and engaged. It's an easy exercise that can keep you healthy in your home.

Ann Yakimovicz