Physical activity is integral to maintaining good health at any age, and its importance becomes even more apparent as we grow older. Since exercise tends to wane with age, it’s paramount to be proactive about our health. Luckily, there are many exercises for seniors that don’t involve putting much stress on the body.
Regular exercise can lower mortality and increase mobility, further improving quality of life. Low-impact exercise, in particular, is an excellent way to incorporate more activity into our lives, especially as we age.
Don’t let the name fool you: “low-impact” doesn’t mean “easy.” What is does mean is less stress on joints and less risk of injury. Compare that to high-impact exercises like running, which puts a tremendous amount of stress on the spine, hips, knees, and ankles.
In low-impact exercise, at least one or both feet is grounded at all times and movements are smooth, reducing the amount of stress on the musculoskeletal system. It’s recommended for people who are new to exercise or have an injury or chronic condition like osteoarthritis because it doesn’t require the limbs to come in contact with a hard surface.
Before beginning any fitness regimen, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise. Once you’ve got the go-ahead, you can ease into an exercise routine with these low-impact exercises that offer numerous health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and decreased damage to joints.
1. Gentle Yoga
Yoga restores balance to the mind and body while increasing strength and flexibility. There are several variations of yoga; gentle yoga is particularly low-impact. Stretching the muscles around the joints helps to strengthen and stabilize the joints and the emphasis on breath can improve lung capacity.
Poses like the forward fold increase circulation to the upper body and releases tension from the neck and shoulders. Twists promote spinal flexibility and digestion. The relaxing savasana pose – Sanskrit for “dissolving” – stimulates blood circulation and relieves fatigue.
Yoga poses are easily modified to suit your abilities. If you have joint pain or have suffered an injury that limits your mobility, just talk to your yoga teacher before class. He or she will be able to provide modifications that suit your body.
Visit your local gym or community center, and you’re sure to find at least one row of ellipticals. The machine keeps both feet grounded while simulating a walking, running, or climbing motion. It puts significantly less impact on your hips, knees and back than running or walking on pavement or a treadmill.
Most elliptical machines can be pedaled backward to work the calves and hamstrings more intensely than a forward motion. Ellipticals often feature handles, which allow you to work your upper body too. If you use the handles, don’t lean on them. Support your weight with your lower body.
Exercising on an elliptical burns a ton of calories. Start by using the machine for 15 to 20 minutes to get your legs used to the motion. Then, you can build up your pace, the machine’s resistance, and the duration of your workout. To get the most out of an elliptical workout, maintain good posture by keeping your head up, your neck relaxed, your shoulders back and your abdominal muscles tight.
Regular swimming can reduce joint pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis and improve strength and range of motion. It’s a great option for a low-impact workout that increases muscle mass, bone density, and balance. Many community centers and larger gyms have indoor swimming pools that are open year-round, so aquatic exercise isn’t limited to warmer months.
Forms of exercise that occur on the ground pose an inherent risk of suffering a fall or debilitating joint injury. Exercise that takes place in the water, however, lessens the likelihood of injury without sacrificing the benefits of a great cardio workout — whether you’re swimming laps or doing water aerobics — because it requires you to use all of your muscle groups.
Water aerobics allow the body to swiftly move through motions that simply aren’t possible on ground. Plus, the added element of water resistance makes it easier to build strength while preventing the joints from moving too quickly, which can lead to hyperextension.
The buoyancy of water also protects the joints by reducing the amount of weight put on them and helps keep the body upright. Even if you lose balance, you’ll “fall” in the water, not on a hard surface.
Walking is free and requires no equipment, but you may want to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Although there is some impact as your feet strike the ground, it’s very minimal.
An 8-year study of 13,000 participants found that those who walked for 30 minutes a day had a significantly lower risk of premature death than those who rarely exercised. In addition to burning calories, regular walking can also help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, increase endurance, and improve bone density.
Take a few minutes to stretch and get the blood flowing before you start walking. Beginning walkers can start by walking shorter distances at first and gradually increase distance. Maintain good posture, with your head lifted, and your neck and shoulders relaxed. Make sure that you can talk while walking. If you can’t, you’re going too fast.
5. Rowing Machine
The rowing machine is one of those forgotten pieces of equipment often overlooked by gym visitors, but it is seriously worth trying out. The rowing machine offers a total body, low-impact cardio workout that strengthens and tones the arms, upper back, legs, and core.
The seated position of the rowing machine takes the bodyweight off of the knees and hips, so there is no pressure on the joints. Rowing is a very smooth, fluid motion, and it puts the user in control of the movement. Pull harder for more intensity, or softer for less intensity.
Proper form is essential on the rowing machine. A gym trainer can help to correct your form to prevent injury.
Get as gentle or as intense a workout as you’d like with cycling. Whether you’re pedaling a state-of-the-art road bike, doing laps around the neighborhood on a 3-speed, or taking a group class on a stationary bike, you’ll be able to work your body without putting any unnecessary stress on your body, like damage to cartilage and ligaments.
The Cleveland Clinic cites cycling as one of the best forms of aerobic exercise. Cycling is especially beneficial for those who have difficulty walking for an extended period due to arthritic or orthopedic problems. It’s also an excellent form of exercise for those who are more than 50 pounds overweight, as cycling increases heart rate without putting any stress on the knees, ankles, hips, and back.
Cycling also has an added social component. Many gyms and community centers offer group stationary cycling classes, and your town or city may have a cycling club that organizes group rides.
Nearly every type of exercise can be modified to suit an individual’s mobility. High-impact exercises can be made low-impact by performing the movements less strenuously, for less time or in a way that reduces the risk of injury.
Check the class schedule at your local gym or community center. Many offer low-impact group exercise classes that are structured for older adults.
A healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercises for seniors is essential to maintaining independence as we age. Bluebird Homecare can help. Our caregivers can assist you with exercise, whether you need help setting up equipment, a ride to the gym or a friendly reminder to move.
Contact Bluebird today to learn how our services can benefit you.