Exercise is a crucial piece of the wellness puzzle, especially for seniors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), compared to less active men and women, older adults who engage in regular physical activity have lower rates of:
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Colon cancer
- Breast cancer
- All-cause mortality
And that’s not all. The same organization reports higher levels of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, healthier body mass, higher levels of functional health, a lower risk of falling, better cognitive function and a reduced risk of moderate and severe functional limitations in physically active older adults.
Yet, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that only 28 to 34 percent of adults ages 65 to 74 are physically active. And even fewer are meeting the physical activity recommendations for older adults–at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
That’s not really that surprising considering 10 percent of men and 13 percent of women aged 60 and up suffer from osteoarthritis, a painful condition that affects the joints. This percentage gets even higher when you include other joint-related conditions. If you suffer from any of these conditions, you are likely to avoid exercise completely, assuming that even a few minutes will be quite painful.
But pain with physical activity isn’t inevitable–you just have to choose the right activity. You don’t have to engage in strenuous weightlifting or jarring jogging to reap the benefits of exercise. There are plenty of low impact activities that go easy on your joints but still help your health. Of course, you should always consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. Once you do, try these five low impact exercises for seniors that have big benefits:
The ultimate low impact exercise, swimming is a great choice for seniors, whether you suffer from joint pain or not. It goes easy on your joints while also helping to improve cardiorespiratory and muscle endurance, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other research indicates that swimming may help reduce high blood pressure. And several studies suggest that it has benefits for mental health as well–increased cognitive and executive functioning, improved mood and decreases in anxiety and symptoms of depression have been observed in those who hit the water regularly.
If swimming outdoors is not an option, check out your local gym or senior center. Many offer classes specifically for older adults.
Yoga is hands-down one of the best low impact exercises for seniors since it can help keep joints limber and strengthen bones. It can also help build balance and strength, which is particularly important in reducing falls. And, like all exercise, yoga is a great way to maintain a healthy weight.
Research suggests that yoga can even reduce hypertension. Scientists theorize that the slow, controlled breathing inherent to yoga may decrease nervous system activity, which can help manage blood pressure.
The benefits don’t stop there. Yoga is as great for your mind as it is for your body. Multiple studies have shown that it can help reduce anxiety and stress and improve your mood.
Most gyms and studios offer regular yoga classes. Just be sure to ask which classes are recommended for you based upon your experience level and physical limitations. Don’t feel like signing up for a class? Don’t sweat it: There are plenty of workout videos online and on TV that you can follow along with in the comfort of your own home.
What’s better than a low impact exercise that costs absolutely nothing and can be done anytime, anywhere? Walking checks all those boxes and then some. Studies have suggested that engaging in a regular walking regimen can help strengthen bones, muscles and joints; improve circulation; help with weight management; improve mood and sleep; slow mental decline; and even help control a sweet tooth. With all these benefits, it’s no wonder walking is deemed an ideal low impact exercise for seniors.
Walking outside is a great way to get some fresh air. But if the weather is bad or you don’t feel comfortable heading outdoors, you can reap the same benefits walking on a treadmill at your local gym or even doing laps around the mall. Just be sure to wear supportive shoes and drink plenty of water before, during and after your strolling sessions.
Spin and indoor cycling classes are all the rage these days–and for good reason: An aerobic activity that gets your heart pumping, this type of exercise can improve endurance and heart health, lower blood pressure and stress levels, and strengthen hip and leg muscles, reports Harvard Health.
The cyclical motion inherent to indoor biking also goes easy on the joints, making it a great activity for older adults who suffer from knee or general joint pain. Plus, if you experience balance issues, the seated position of cycling can be a comfort.
Check out your local gym for a schedule of classes and be sure to inquire if there are any classes specifically for older adults–many gyms now offer these. If not, don’t be afraid to ask the class instructor about modifications to moves you aren’t comfortable with.
Like cycling, the elliptical is a great aerobic activity that goes easy on joints. But unlike cycling, the elliptical incorporates arm movements as well, making it a great full body workout. Plus, you can mix up the muscles you work by reverse pedaling.
While most gyms don’t offer elliptical classes like they do indoor cycling, almost every fitness facility has at least one of these in their cardio section.