A common misconception about physical fitness is that it must involve strenuous exercises and long workouts in order to reap the benefits. But the truth is that even low-impact exercises and short stretching sessions can contribute to a healthier lifestyle and improved physical well-being. Some older adults may have flexibility or mobility issues, making some sports and other activities difficult or challenging to perform.
For seniors especially, a major area of concern is the back. As we age, our lower back muscles, including our spinal vertebrae and cartilage, can become strained and overworked, leading to back pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are some simple, low-impact exercises that seniors can perform that not only will help with improving flexibility and keeping you limber, but also embrace the message of National Physical Fitness month.
The Best Low-Impact Back Exercises for Seniors
The simple act of walking is a great low-impact exercise. It strengthens the muscles responsible for stability when you’re up and about. Your feet, ankles, knees, legs and hips all get a good workout during a walk, even for a short amount of time.
The next time you go for a stroll, try walking heel-to-toe to help maintain balance and reduce strain on your lower back. Start with 20 steps like this at a time, and work your way up. This simple exercise also makes your legs stronger, which makes you less likely to fall while walking.
2. Chair Exercises
Try these two exercises that can be done in the comfort of a chair. These are especially helpful if you have issues with back pain, or if you aren’t comfortable with standing for a long period of time.
- Seated Jumping Jacks are very easy on the joints and staying seated reduces or removes the sudden impact of landing, which can aggravate your spine and lower back muscles and spines. Sit toward the front of your chair with your knees bent and arms resting at your sides. Extend your legs to the sides, straight and wide, with heels on the floor; at the same time, raise your arms into a V above your head. Bring arms and legs back to the center. Repeat for at least 10 minutes to get a full aerobic benefit.
- The Spine Stretcher is good for those who sit all day, or just need a good stretching of the spine. Stretching also relieves tension in the back, which supports a large portion of your body. Sit straight up in your chair with both feet flat on the floor. Raise both hands straight up and parallel above your head. Reach as high as you can so you can feel the stretch in your spine. Alternate hands, reaching up one at a time like you’re climbing a rope (you should feel it in your rib cage and spine). Repeat 10-20 times on each side.
Practicing yoga is a great lower back exercise for seniors for several reasons. Yoga helps improve bone density, relieves tension in the body (making it great for your mental health as well), and can also reduce your risk of injury from falling or tripping by strengthening your core muscles.
Here are a few examples of yoga poses that can help with your back:
- Child’s Pose: Start on the hands and knees and sit hips back towards the heels. Bring the big toes together and keep the knees together to create support to round the back over the legs and get into the thoracic spine stretch. This pose lengthens and stretches the spine while relieving tension in the neck and shoulders. You can also try using a block under the forehead for more relief.
- Knees to Chest: Lie down on your back and hug knees up into chest. This has the same effects as child’s pose without impact on the knees. It rounds and releases. You can gently rock right to left for a gentle massage on the spine.
Before starting any physical program, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to determine which exercises work best for you.
Senior Wellness at Immanuel Lutheran Communities
At Immanuel Lutheran Communities, we focus on all six dimensions of wellness through a variety of healthy activities for residents. You’ll find several fitness classes designed with you in mind. Try a strength, balance and fitness class or improve your flexibility in a yoga class. Contact us to learn more about the living options offered at our Kalispell retirement community located in the beautiful Flathead Valley.