Adults 55 or better who make activity and exercise a daily habit are helping themselves age better. It’s no secret that regular exercise can help improve your sleep, mood, weight management and reduce your risk for chronic conditions. However the natural aging process means that older adults may need to take precautions with certain exercises at the gym.
“As people age it’s important to maintain muscle strength, endurance, flexibility and balance,” said Erik Hansson, a health and fitness specialist at SamFit in Corvallis. “Being active is great for people of all ages, but for older adults the body can be less forgiving.”
Muscles and joints that aren’t as strong as they used to be can mean an injury if you aren’t careful about correct form or push yourself too hard.
Hansson notes that the lower back is especially vulnerable to injury during exercise if you are straining or using too much weight. He recommends which exercises to skip at the gym, and what to replace with so you get a good workout that won’t lead to pain.
Skip: Crunches & Sit-ups
Why? Both exercises flatten the natural curve of the lower back, which can damage the spinal discs. The posture also promotes an awkward curve of the upper back and can strain the neck.
Try instead: Planks
Planks build core strength and muscles in your arms and legs. The move also helps with balance.
How to do it: On the floor, plant hands directly under the shoulders with legs straight behind you resting on your toes. Use your glutes and abdominal muscles to support your body and keep your hips from dropping and your back flat. Breathe and count to 10. Repeat three times. Slowly increase the length of time you hold the plank, up to one minute. If your wrists hurt, hold the form on your elbows with hands and forearms on the floor in front of you. If you can’t support your body weight yet, brace your knees on the floor instead of your toes.
Skip: Leg Press
Why? When using the leg press machine, you must recline on a bench and push a plate with weight attached to it away from your body. This movement can strengthen the leg muscles but the posture can flatten the natural curve of the lower back, putting your spine at risk. It also places an abnormal amount of pressure on your joints.
Try instead: Squats
Squats work the glutes, abs and quadriceps muscles in the thighs, and are a functional movement that you use in everyday life.
How to do it: With feet hip distance apart, lean forward slightly at the waist. Grounding through your heels, push your bottom out and bend at the knees like you’re sitting in a chair. Don’t let your knees extend past your toes. Squeeze your glutes to return to an upright position. Do three sets of 15 squats each set.
Skip: Lat Pulldown
Why? The lat pulldown machine is an elevated bar with weights attached. Starting with arms over your head and pulling the bar behind your neck strengthens the lateral muscles in the back that help with posture. The lat pulldown machine can help build muscle but is hard to do correctly and can compromise your lower back and neck.
Try instead: Bent row
The bent row protects the lower back while strengthening arms and upper back muscles, important if you spend much time sitting or at a computer.
How to do it: Stand with feet hip distance apart, knees slightly bent and aligned with your toes, grounding through your heels. Bend about 45 degrees at the waist, abdominals supporting your back, keeping your back and neck aligned. Arms extend toward the ground. Pull your hands straight to your sides, elbows back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Release arms back down toward the ground. Start with soup cans or 2lb weights. Do three sets of 15 rows each set.
“Balance especially becomes more of an issue as people age,” said Hansson. “A well-rounded workout that includes strength training, stretching and some cardio like walking or swimming all help with balance and are necessary to keep you healthy and strong during your golden years.”
Get help putting together the right workout routine to meet your health goals. Find out more about personalized training sessions at SamFit.
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