You might be feeling like the years are catching up with you and your joints and muscles are not moving as freely as they once did. This does not mean you should give up exercising, or stop you from starting again. There are a number of low-impact workouts that are typically less hard on the body. They can benefit your health by stretching and strengthening your muscles, reducing stress, preventing injury and even helping to lower your blood pressure.
Low-impact exercises fall into four categories: endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. Incorporating all four types of exercise into your routine helps reduce the risk of injury and keeps you from getting bored. Instead of doing just one exercise all the time, mix it up! Below are just a small sample of low-impact exercises you could introduce into your exercise regime.
Walking is one of the best low-impact endurance exercises. It takes very little planning to get started, and it’s easy enough on the joints that many older people can keep up a walking routine until very late in life. The keys to a beneficial walking routine are the right pair of shoes and some good stretching after your walk. While you’re walking, you want to focus on your posture, keeping your back straight and shoulders rolled back. If you’re new to walking, start with a short distance and increase your walks by a few minutes each time until you’re able to walk for 30- to 60-minute stretches.
While it might not seem like a low-impact exercise, cycling is actually very easy on the joints since your body absorbs minimal shock from pedaling. You can ride a stationary bike at the gym or invest in a road bike to pedal around your neighborhood. If an upright bicycle is too hard on your back, neck and shoulders, try a recumbent bike instead. Unlike an upright bike, where you’re bent over the handlebars, a recumbent bike allows you to sit back with the pedals and handlebars right in front of you. Planning to ride a recumbent bike outdoors? Since this style of bike is much lower to the ground than an upright, it’s a good idea to invest in a flag to make you more visible to drivers.
Swimming helps improve not only your endurance but flexibility as well. Because the water relieves stress on your bones and joints, swimming carries a lower risk of injury than many other endurance exercises, and it conditions your whole body as you move through the water. Swimming can even help post-menopausal women avoid bone loss. When you swim laps in the pool, you’re simultaneously stretching and strengthening the muscles in your back, arms, legs and shoulders. Trying out different strokes can help keep your routine fun while also working out different muscle groups.
Many older people may feel that weight training is too strenuous, but certain weight-lifting exercises are actually an excellent low-impact way to build muscle and improve overall health. The key is to start with lighter weights, or even do the moves with no weights, and increase the amount that you’re lifting over time as you improve your strength. If you can, take a few sessions with a personal trainer to learn some good upper- and lower-body exercises and get tips on maintaining good form. Once you have the hang of it, you can work out on your own. If a trainer isn’t in your budget, check your local library for books or magazines on low-impact weight training exercises for older people
Water aerobics combines cardiovascular exercise with strength training for a low-impact, full-body workout. By exercising in water, you take advantage of the water’s resistance to strengthen your muscles as you move. This form of exercise has become the stereotypical senior workout, but with good reason. Like with swimming, the water takes stress off of your joints and allows you to build strength and endurance with very little impact. It’s a common misconception that you need to be able to swim to participate in water aerobics classes. Most take place in shallow water — between waist and chest deep — so swimming is not a requirement.
Flexibility & Balance
Tai chi is a meditative exercise that flows slowly from pose to pose. Like yoga, tai chi is low impact, and it improves balance, strength and flexibility. It doesn’t require any special equipment or clothing, but you’ll need to take classes to learn the basics before doing tai chi on your own. Older people can find classes at gyms, community centers or dedicated tai chi studios. The focus on breathing helps improve concentration and reduce stress while the slow, flowing movements tone and stretch muscles, making tai chi an excellent low-impact workout. Tai chi’s biggest benefit for older people is probably the improved balance. Balance begins to decline as we age, and good balance helps prevent falls, a major cause of injury and death among older people.
No matter what your workout routine, adding some gentle stretches will improve your flexibility and range of motion. You’ll want to do stretches that focus on muscles you’re working during the rest of your routine, but some general stretches in the morning and evening can be especially beneficial for older people, since our muscles tend to lose flexibility as we age. Take it slowly, and never push yourself to the point of pain. You just want to feel a gentle pull on your muscle, and focus on taking slow, deep breaths as you hold your stretch.