As we age, our bodies aren’t able to rebound from hard driving, high-impact workouts as well as they did in our younger years. Conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and other age-related ailments may make high-impact workouts counterproductive and increase the risk of both pain and injury. When we do high-impact exercise, our feet forcefully hit the ground (as with running or jumping rope). Whereas with low-impact exercise (such as walking or biking), one foot remains on the ground during the activity. Or your feet are in contact with pedals or steps. And, in the case of swimming, your feet don’t support your body. This makes it a no-impact exercise, perfect at any age. There is a myriad of great low-impact workouts for older adults that can provide challenging cardio and strength training while sparing their joints.
Here are some great low-impact workouts for older adults for keeping fit without having to hit the ground hard.
Total-body resistance exercises are perfect for older adults who are at risk of falling due to balance issues. As the exercises are performed using the equipment, the bands help support the body and provide proprioceptive feedback. TRX training has been shown to result in significant functional training for older adults. The ease of adapting the program for individual abilities makes this form of exercise an ideal way to improve age-related mobility, strength, and balance declines.
Many older people are affected by arthritis that’s so debilitating it makes most forms of exercise difficult or painful. Swimming is a well-tolerated activity for those with joint pain. The buoyancy of the water takes stress off the joints and allows more freedom of movement, without discomfort. As a result of the pressure that water exerts on the body, along with the cool temperature, swimming can even help reduce joint swelling.
If you’re a runner and can’t continue running because of joint pain or injury, deep water running is a good switch. With deep water running, you wear a floatation belt for buoyancy. You also use a high knee running gait in water deep enough that your feet can’t touch the bottom. There’s data that supports the benefits of deep-water running for older adults, including reducing resting blood pressure, as well as improving functional fitness.
Whether you prefer hitting the trails, roads, or you like to keep it indoors, biking is something you can do for the rest of your life. It provides a low-impact form of exercise that can be as challenging as you choose it to be. Indoor cycling provides a year-round exercise option and may be a safer choice for older adults who feel less confident riding outdoors. The fun thing about indoor cycling is that there are lots of choices of bike types and workouts.
Recumbent Stationary Bike
If you have low back problems, a recumbent bike allows you to bike in a position that is less stressful for your back. This type of bike can be the most comfortable for older adults. This is because there isn’t as much pressure on the sacrum. The stability of this type of bike makes it perfect for someone who has balance issues or is a fall risk.
Upright Stationary Bike
If you have knee pain, an upright bike may be a more comfortable choice. You can adjust the seat height, angle, and forward/back position to provide a good fit for your body. Plus you can easily change the resistance to a level that doesn’t tweak knee pain. Upright stationary bikes fit easily in the corner of a room. The many builds of these types of bikes make it easy to find one that fits your body.
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
Stand up paddle boarding has exploded as a sport in the past decade. A lot of older people love it because it’s a low impact, fun, and relatively easy-to-master total body sport. It’s a perfect activity for those who have joint pain. The gentle, rhythmic movements don’t over-stress joints and muscles. Research on SUP has suggested that this sport provides cardio and strength improvements, making it a perfect fit for those looking to up their fitness level without risking joint injury.
The most challenging part of learning this sport is maintaining balance and coordination. But the good part is that if you fall it’s just a dunking in the water. You can start by kneeling on the board and slowly work towards a standing position. You’ll strengthen all your muscle groups and improve your posture as you get better. Start out by taking some lessons from a pro. Choose a lightweight board that’ll make it easy to move to and from the water.
The elliptical machine provides a great low-impact workout. It uses a gliding leg motion that minimizes stress on the joints and handlebars that work the upper body. There’s minimal joint stress with this machine. As a result, it’s a good fit for those with arthritis or other conditions. The stable design and four-point balance (feet and arms) make the elliptical machine feel secure for older individuals who may not have great balance or coordination. You get a full-body workout with this machine and you can pump up your intensity by adjusting the resistance, allowing you to work out hard, without pounding your body.
Walking is the perfect low-impact activity for almost anyone who wants to stay fit. You can do it practically anywhere. The rhythmic motion is gentle on the body, yet builds endurance and keeps joints functioning properly. A recent study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress suggests that walking just 20-25 minutes a day may add three to seven years to your life, plus make those years more vital. The researchers found that regular exercise, such as walking, could slow the aging process and even help repair old DNA.
There are so many ways to adapt walking to your level of fitness and ability. If you want to boost your cardio fitness, add hills for a more intense walk. Or wear a backpack with added weight. Walking poles have become popular, and they’re perfect for providing additional balance while adding upper body strength. If the weather is an issue, treadmill walking makes it easy to take your trek indoors and change your incline and pace at the touch of a button.
There’s an increasing amount of research that shows that doing Tai Chi is beneficial for older adults. This form of Chinese martial art is comprised of slow, integrated movements and poses that are combined with breath work and mental relaxation. You can do Tai Chi almost anywhere and it doesn’t require any equipment. It is increasingly used to help improve function with those who suffer from age-related conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.
Tai chi movements are circular and gentle. The range of motion is kept short of full extension or flexion. This makes it ideal for those with arthritis. The movements are easily modified for comfort. You can also perform movements in a seated position if standing isn’t possible. This form of activity gets top points for improving
Catherine Cram is an exercise physiologist and a leading expert in the field of maternal fitness. Her consulting company, “Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness” specializes in providing the most current maternal exercise information and continuing education courses to health and fitness professionals.