As we get older, we may find our bodies aren’t as resilient as they once were. We may have lingering neck and shoulder pain or find the exercises we use to enjoy causes us pain. Age-related changes to our muscles, joints, and bones can cause this and may prevent people from exercising, which can make the pain worse in the long run.
Over time our muscles get smaller and weaker. This is because our muscle fibers are reduced, and muscle tissue is replaced with inflexible fibrous tissue. As a result, bones can become less dense and weaker, and the cartilage lining our joints becomes less flexible.
Lifestyle adjustments can help reduce the pain and stiffness you may be experiencing. For example, if you wake up with a stiff neck, you may need a millet pillow and if your knees hurt after a long walk, try orthotics. In addition, regular physical activity can help reverse many of these changes and actually prevent pain.
Research has found that an active lifestyle can increase muscle mass, make bones stronger, slow the rate of bone loss and maintain joint flexibility. Yet, some will find they are sorer after a workout or quickly become injured after doing the same exercises they did when they were younger. This is easily remedied by changing your workout and engaging in low-impact activities.
Exercise can also help reduce chronic pain. Chronic pain is described as pain lasting over 12 weeks, causing poor quality of life, depression, sleep disturbances, and disability. Previously, individuals with chronic pain were recommended to rest and reduce activity; however, research has shown that the benefits of exercise could reduce chronic pain and improve quality of life. The key to reducing pain is doing the right exercises.
Low impact exercise gives you the same benefits of a workout while also reducing pressure and stress placed on joints. It is often described as an exercise where one foot stays on the ground at all times. These exercises help prevent injuries and are suitable for older adults and those with chronic pain. So if you’ve already got yourself a millet pillow, a supportive pair of shoes and now looking for activities to reduce pain and help you feel good, try these low impact workouts:
Rowing is an excellent full-body workout that increases strength and gets your cardio – and you don’t need to get out on the water to do it. This workout is especially good for those looking for non-weight-bearing exercises or who have knee and hip pain. You can purchase a rower to use at home, although the price can be steep, so you may want to use the one at your local gym. When rowing, just ensure you are using proper form and posture to prevent back injury. Keep your core engaged, and never lock your knees.
If you are looking for an effective cardio workout, try swimming. This can be as effective as a jog but without the impact on your knees and joints. When swimming, your body is supported by the water taking pressure off all your joints. It is a great full-body workout that will also improve flexibility and strength in your quads, pecs, shoulders, and triceps. Just 30 minutes of swimming can burn 216 calories in a 155-pound person. As an added bonus, you won’t feel overheated or sweaty.
A common misconception is that walking isn’t as effective as running or jogging. Walking can burn calories and get your heart rate up while putting less pressure on your joints. If you have knee troubles, you should avoid running or jogging, but walking is a great alternative. Getting out in nature and walking on a trail is even more low impact than walking on concrete – plus, you get the added benefit of being surrounded by nature. If your fitness goals include burning more calories, increase your speed. You should also ensure you have proper form.
Just like running, you should bend your arm 90 degrees and keep them tucked into your side.
Roller skating or ice skating
Roller skating and ice skating are phenomenal workouts that are also a lot of fun. However, you’ll find that rolling around uses muscles you may not be used to using. The side-to-side motion provides counter-stimulus to the joints and muscles of your lower body. Simply put, your legs are working in a much different way than if you were walking or jogging.
Standing oblique crunches
Traditional crunches can be very painful if you are recovering from a neck or back injury or if you are prone to injury. Additionally, some people struggle to get up and down off the floor. The good news is you don’t need to drop down to the mat to get an ab workout in. To do an oblique crunch, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your hands behind your head and elbows pointing out to the side. Next, bend to the left, raising your left knee to meet your left elbow. Don’t go further than you can. You should feel a bit of a stretch, but it shouldn’t feel painful. Then, return to the standing position and repeat on your right side. Repeat this 30 times for a solid oblique and ab workout!
If you are watching a Pilates class for the first time, you may assume it’s too easy to be effective, but 5 minutes into a class and you’ll soon realize how very wrong that assumption is.
A 2017 study looked at the effectiveness of Pilates and found that an 8-week Pilates program helped change participants' body composition! Not only can Pilates help you lose weight, but it can also tone muscles and build strength.
Yoga is an excellent form of low-impact exercise that is suitable for all levels. The ancient practice can improve mobility and flexibility, strengthen and tone muscles, and burn calories. However, if you have pre-existing injuries, it is best to work with a yoga teacher or research modifications to ensure you protect your body. You can also incorporate meditation, beginning or ending your practice on your meditation cushion. This will benefit your mind, body, and soul!
If you love your time on the treadmill but want a less impactful alternative, try the elliptical.
You will usually find a few of these machines next to the rows of treadmills at the gym. Unlike a treadmill where you lift your feet, your feet don’t lift as much with one foot always firmly planted. In addition, a 2014 study found that an elliptical workout puts less stress on your legs.
When was the last time you danced? Dancing is an excellent workout and can boost endorphins, making you feel great! So sign up for ballroom dancing lessons and live out your own “Dancing with the Stars” dreams. The workout is very gentle and will burn calories, strengthen muscles and improve mobility.
Golf is a beloved past-time for many. It’s a great way to socialize, relax and exercise! Many people don’t golf for the health benefits, but they are there. In 2018 a research review found that golf improves health in several ways. Time spent outdoors, social connections, and movements enhance mental wellbeing, strength, and balance. You don’t need to sign up for 18-holes to get these benefits, either. Just 20 minutes at your local driving range can burn calories and build strength.
Spinning or cycling
Spinning is when you cycle on a stationary bike. Though this low-impact exercise has existed for a long time, it is increasing in popularity with new boutique spin studios popping up everywhere. In these classes, you will usually adjust your resistance and speed to the music. In some classes, you will even use free weights and upper body movements to enhance the workout further. If being inside a studio doesn’t appeal to you, hop on your bike and cycle outdoors. Cycling is a great exercise that doesn’t strain your joints. One study found that it can also reduce your risk of developing cancer or heart disease by 45%!
Tai Chi is an Ancient Chinese movement that promotes physical and mental wellbeing. The movements are very slow and controlled. Although it won’t get your heart rate up and burn a lot of calories, it will improve balance, flexibility, and strength! It is like a moving meditation (except you’re off your meditation pillow) that can also reduce stress and anxiety and improve sleep!
There is an abundance of benefits to regular exercise. It can help manage weight, improve mood, increase memory, and reduce your risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. It can also help you maintain mobility, flexibility, and strength as you age!
Exercise is vital to living a healthy lifestyle. Whatever your current health regime looks like now – whether you're taking a nighttime probiotic or starting your day with a smoothie – you will feel better by incorporating these low-impact exercises.