Fitness Hacks in the Kitchen - header image

Multitasking moves that can help older adults with lower back or balance issues*  

Since we spend A LOT of time in the kitchen, why not work out a few kinks while you’re waiting for the oven to preheat, the pot to boil or a microwave beep? 

Hard-working millennials to sedentary retirees, almost everyone spends too much time sitting in one place. As a result, weakened and painfully tight muscles become problematic, creating lower back issues and unsteady balance. These genius fitness hacks are fun, especially tailored for those who are sedentary.   

Maybe we won’t cha-cha our way down the hall or hit the floor for planks and push-ups while dinner bubbles on the stove, but a few simple (and slightly more decorous!) moves can make a startling difference.

These five multi-tasking movements are so easy, we hesitate to even call them exercise. Easy to remember, too, if you put a Post-It note by each “station!”

Are you 65 or older? One in five who fall end up with a serious injury. It’s a leading cause of injury and death. Fitness is an important, proactive way to remain independent as we age.  


1. Heel lifts at the cabinets.

Need that dish on the top shelf of a cabinet? You’ll naturally do a heel lift as you reach overhead. Why not make it slow and intentional, then add a toe lift and some repetition while you’re at it? Here’s a great video showing how simple it is to do a nice series of heel-toe lifts to give your calf muscles a little workout. You might be surprised how good it feels up the legs, hips and back.

If you’re determined to increase the exercise for those muscles or find this a little too easy, take the lifts a step further by adding a canned good or gallon of milk in each hand.

2. Squats unloading the dishwasher.

Unloading the dishwasher is another opportunity for a few fit moves, if you do a correctly formed squat each time you reach into the dishwasher.  

If you want a little more challenge, put away each dish one at a time, with a squat to reach the dish, then a second squat or heel lift to put the dish in the cabinet, depending if it goes above the counter or below!

In all of these activities, be sure to move slowly and control each movement for maximum benefit. Rushing won’t help and can make you lose your balance. Also be sure to NOT do exercises in front of a stove with something cooking on a burner. We don’t want you to accidentally bump a pan and get burned!



3. Ankle rotations at the coffee maker.

Ankle mobility has a lot to do with balance. While waiting for that coffee to brew, take time to stand on one foot while slowly rotating the other foot a dozen times in each direction. Continue doing the rotations until the entire pot of coffee has finished brewing.

These ankle rotations are beneficial for BOTH legs, and you can hold on to the counter for support as needed. The rotating angle gets nicely stretched, while the stabilizing leg is strengthened, along with core muscles used to keep your balance.

Progress to doing these without holding on to anything, if you can safely balance on one leg with your hands on your hips. (Here’s what it looks like.)  

Click here for even more fall prevention moves.


4. Hip extension at the sink.

(This one’s great for your hip strength.) While standing at the sink doing dishes or running the garbage disposal, stand tall and slowly lift your leg straight back without bending your knees, pointing your toes, or arching your back. Just a few inches is fine, don’t overextend the leg so much that you feel twinges. Hold the pose for a few seconds—maybe as long as it takes to towel dry a dish? —gently lower the leg back down, then do the same thing with the other leg. Alternating with a dozen of these would be great, or you can keep it up as long as you are standing at the sink. (See the exercise here.)

For even more strengthening, add a series of side leg lifts. 

5. Marching at the microwave.

Another simple way to move while still focusing on the cooking task at hand is marching in place. It can get your heart rate up nicely, especially if you do it for at least five minutes! Every time you are standing in front of the microwave, march in place until your food or beverage is ready.

To mix things up, why not throw in five minutes of stepping side-to-side or add a hop? If using a microwave isn’t your thing, you can designate the refrigerator as your marching station or any small appliance in the kitchen used frequently.

No matter what you choose to do, any extra fitness exercises or stretches you fit into your day are helpful. If done with a sense of adventure and appreciation for how they make your body feel, it can be fun, too. It’s not like the neighbors are watching – go for it!

Interested in a health coach to work with you on fitness and nutrition, support your goals to make them become reality or motivate you with healthier new habits? The Center for Health and Wellbeing offers support services in several West Valley locations, plus an assortment of free and low-cost resources. Learn more here.

* This information is provided by health professionals from the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing. It should not be substituted for medical advice from your physician. Please remember multitasking moves may not be appropriate or safe for every older adult with balance issues. Consulting with an appropriate professional (such as our health coaches at the Center for Health & Wellbeing) may be advisable.


(Originally published March 2, 2018; last updated Jan. 6, 2019.)

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