Seniors should continue to exercise to maintain a standard of physical health and prolong their quality of life. However, the regime will need to change with age to account for changes in bone and muscle health. In this article, you will learn about ten exercises seniors should avoid at all costs.
Although eliminating these exercises may slightly limit how effectively you maintain your health, the good news is there are many suitable alternatives that will put less of a strain on any vulnerable muscles and bones, as well as your heart and lungs.
Deadlifts Add Stress to the Lower Back
The deadlift is the first exercise that seniors should avoid; this maneuver involves a dynamic movement under the resistance of weight. It is an exercise that engages many muscles of both the upper and lower body but is particularly hazardous for seniors because it requires the participant to have a good balance.
Luckily, there are safe alternatives that target the same muscles. Any alternative to a deadlift should involve the participant performing a similar range of motion without having to balance weights.
Alternative: Kettlebell Swing or Hex Bar
A less arduous and physically hazardous alternative to the deadlift is the kettlebell swing. The kettlebell is a piece of equipment that can be used to gain core strength, increasing endurance, and enhancing balance.
The kettlebell deadlift is easier to learn than with the barbell. Start with your feet set shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up and your back straight—maintaining proper form is critical. Then bend at the hip and at the knees slightly to grab the kettlebell off the ground.
Finish the move by keeping your heels flat to the ground while driving the hips to a standing position. You can see illustrations describing how to perform this exercise on this site.
Seniors will also find the hex bar (also called a trap bar) to be a suitable alternative to the standard barbell deadlift. The trap bar puts much less stress on the lower back, which is one of the primary concerns about deadlifts.
Weighted Squats Makes Balancing Harder
Squatting is an exercise that targets a wide range of muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and abdominal muscles.
This type of exercise requires both strength and balance. It would not be advisable for someone with an unsteady balance to try supporting weights on their shoulders, as is the case with weighted squats.
Alternative: Chair Squats
While weighted squats should be avoided, seniors are encouraged to maintain a healthy balance with a few easy squats using equipment that can be found around the home. Chair squats are recommended for seniors by Edward-Elmhurst Health. For this exercise, you will need a strong, sturdy chair and either a free weight or kettlebell.
You are also welcome to perform the exercise without any weights; in fact, it would be best not to use them the first time you try this so that you do not develop bad form. Doing this in front of a mirror can help you monitor your positioning if you do not have an exercise partner or trainer.
To perform chair squats:
- Hold the weight in your hand.
- Sit in the chair.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart, staying seated.
- Make sure that your heels are approximately 4 inches away from the legs of the chair
- Once you have sat back, you will use your hips to stand up. (Most of the stress should be placed on your heels.)
- Do not sit fully in your chair again during the exercise; you will spring back up as soon as your backside hits the seat.
- Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
HIIT is Challenging with Weakened Heart & Lungs
Seniors should be emphasizing exercises that meet the target heart range responsibly. “High intensity” is a bit of a subjective term. In this case, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) would involve any kind of activity that purposely keeps the rest time brief after a period of rapid motion.
This would be an exercise that requires an individual to have a healthy heart and lungs. For this reason, high-intensity interval training needs to be adjusted so that the target heart rate considers the participant’s age range.
Alternative: Adjust HIIT to Fit Target Heart Rate
It is simple to adjust your training to your target heart rate. To calculate it, subtract your age from the number 220. If you are generally healthy, then you can aim to reach this heart rate for brief periods.
You are strongly encouraged to utilize a heart rate monitor if you choose to practice HIIT. There exist simple fingertip heart rate monitors like the Metene Pulse Oximeter. It would also be advisable for seniors to have a workout partner or trainer if they are going to perform exercises that follow a high-intensity interval training routine.
Power Yoga Can Be Hazardous
There are many different types of yoga with varying degrees of physical activity. Some types of yoga, such as restorative yoga, consist mostly of relaxation exercises. The most physically arduous types of yoga should be avoided by seniors, especially women who have osteoporosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercises involving bending and twisting at the waist are hazardous for seniors. Even simple movements like bending forward to touch your toes can increase the risk of compression fractures in the spine for those experiencing osteoporosis. As a result, power yoga is a hazard to seniors’ physical health.
Alternative: Restorative Yoga
Instead of power yoga, seniors are encouraged to focus on forms of yoga that are not as strenuous. Restorative yoga is a form of yoga that aims to relieve stress and contribute to better brain health. It involves using props to support the body, meaning that individuals with a wide range of physical conditions are also capable of performing this exercise.
If seniors are looking for a form of yoga that requires a little bit more physical movement than restorative yoga, Viniyoga and Kripalu yoga are two types of yoga that can fit the bill. Seniors should look for classes that are specifically marketed for those over the age of 50. These types of courses shouldn’t be too hard to find, as most recreation centers likely offer classes that fit this mold.
Another significant benefit of yoga is that it is an affordable exercise to perform at home or with a few friends. Yoga mats are inexpensive and easy to carry around.
Sit-Ups Can Be Tough on the Spine
Despite not seeming overly strenuous, sit-ups may be hazardous for seniors. If you have a history of back problems, then you will most certainly need to avoid this exercise. According to Harvard Medical School, sit-ups are tough on the spine. They may work the hip flexors effectively, but they can also create lower back discomfort.
Planks are a suitable alternative to sit-ups as they will result in less strain on the muscles of the lower back. Performing planks also results in improved targeting of the front, sides, and back of the body. They present a much better opportunity to work the abdominal muscles and achieve a good range of motion.
A good core workout like plank exercises helps to strengthen muscles that are essential to a good balance at an older age. It’s safe to do planks every day, but you should set aside some days to be lighter than others.
Seniors are encouraged to maximize comfort during the exercise. Planks can be difficult on the elbows if they are performed on surfaces that are too rough. Floors that are smooth and forgiving should be sought out. A yoga mat like this one will make planks easier on the elbows than even most carpets.
Standard Pull-Ups Can Lead to Injury
Variations of pull-ups target the latissimus dorsi muscles (commonly referred to as the “lats”), as well as the biceps and muscles of the upper back. They also are more engaging in the cardiovascular muscles than people may realize.
However, as versatile as pull-ups are, it is advised that seniors do not perform these exercises. The reason that pull-ups are dangerous is that they leave the body vulnerable to injuries. It also requires great strength for one to pull their body up towards a raised horizontal bar in the way that pull-ups are performed.
Alternative: Pull Up Machine or Resistance Band
Keeping the lats engaged is essential, even in older age. They are one of the largest muscles in the body and are responsible for helping the body to perform a wide variety of different movements. Seniors are encouraged to find a lats exercise that is less hazardous than standard pull-ups.
Most gyms will have some assisted pull-up machine that will offset at least part of the body weight. Alternatively, you are encouraged to use a resistance band; the resistance band is attached to the pull-up bar and the foot. However, it is recommended that you consult a professional for help if you are using the resistance band method, as it can be a little awkward to maneuver at first.
Stair Climbs Risk Falls & Heart Strain
Stair climbs are another exercise that seniors are not advised to partake in. They are potentially hazardous not just because of the risk for falls, but also of the potential cardiovascular strain. For example, it may be easier for you to reach your maximum target heart rate on stairs than you think, and you may end up pushing your limits before realizing it.
Stair climbs target pretty much all the muscles of the lower body. Still, there are safer alternatives that will engage the same group of muscles that stair climbs otherwise would.
Step-ups are an alternative to traversing the entire flight of stairs. These exercises also target all the major muscles of the lower body, without the fall risk posed by stair climbs.
These exercises can be performed on the bottom step of a flight of stairs. Alternatively, you may buy a step box like the one that can be found here. Start by performing three sets of 10 reps every few days. Wait a few days after the first exercise before proceeding with the next set. This should provide adequate opportunities for rest and recovery.
Upright Rows Require Much Strength & Balance
The upright row is an exercise that involves pulling a barbell or pair of dumbbells repeatedly up from the midsection to the chest. The problem with this exercise is that it requires so much attention to proper form that it would be far too easy to get injured.
The upright row targets the trapezius (upper back and neck area), biceps, deltoids, and shoulders. It is a workout that can result in shoulder and back strain and injuries if it’s performed by someone who does not possess the required balance and strength.
Alternative: Lat Pull-Down Machine
Weight training machines are superior to free weight exercises thanks to their adjustability and forgiveness. It’s easy to stop in the middle of a repetition if you suddenly feel that you do not have the strength to keep going. The lat pull-down machine is one device that is a safer alternative to the upright row.
The lat pull-down machine allows seniors to adjust the exercise to their capabilities. You are encouraged to start with your palms facing you; this will be easier to do since this form will engage the biceps more. For a challenge, the hands can be brought either closer together or farther from each other.
Leg Press Adds Strain to Leg Muscles
The leg press is an exercise that engages all the muscles of the legs and the glutes, but it is not an exercise that should be performed by seniors. The reason for this is that it puts a lot of strain on the leg muscles.
A leg press also poses a risk for injury, especially if proper form is not used. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you dip your thighs too low (below 90 degrees at the knee), you can hurt your knees. Bringing the knees too close together can also lead to knee injuries.
Alternative: Resistance Bands
Resistance bands, like the ones found here, offer an opportunity to replace regular weight training with a safer alternative. The nice thing about resistance bands is that they vary by difficulty based upon which color band you are using. Thanks to resistance bands, seniors can customize their workout to their abilities.
Here is an example of a resistance band workout that can replace a leg press:
- Sit upright in the chair. Wrap the resistance band around one foot, holding a handle in each hand.
- Leave the opposite foot flat on the floor.
- Hold your arms at a 90-degree angle at your waist with your palms facing each other.
- Use the band to pull the one leg up towards your chest.
This is a workout that doesn’t require you to put excess strain on the muscles of your leg. It can also be modified to be more of a stretch than a strength exercise. With resistance bands, seniors have a chance to keep their legs healthy and engaged without having to put themselves at the risk of injury.
Long Distance Running Can Be Too Strenuous
Doctors universally agree that a continued active lifestyle is essential to good health in old age. Unfortunately, people lose their aerobic capacity quite rapidly as they get older. Research has shown that aerobic capacity declines approximately 15% each decade between the ages of 50 and 75.
As a result, seniors thinking about long-distance running should do so only with the utmost caution. Seniors doing cardio exercises are encouraged to monitor their heart rate with a simple monitor like this one to ensure that they are not putting themselves at risk of a heart attack due to strenuous activity.
Also, if you prefer to jog, it is recommended that you interrupt running sessions with brief walking portions so that you are allowing plenty of time for recovery before the next burst of running.
A good alternative to long-distance running would be biking. It is easier to enjoy long bike rides without too much strain than it is to do the same with runs.
Even if you are biking slowly, you can still get a good cardio workout in.
Institutions of health, such as the Mayo Clinic, preach the importance of exercise at any age to maintain health. However, as you age, your exercise regime should change to include specific activities that are less injurious and will reduce pressure on the joints, muscles, lungs, and heart.
To recap, these ten exercises should be avoided by seniors:
- Weighted Squats
- High-Intensity Interval Training
- Power Yoga
- Standard Pull-Ups
- Stair Climbs
- Upright Row
- Leg Press
- Long-Distance Running
Fortunately, there are many suitable alternatives to these exercises that pose less of a danger for older adults. By choosing to pursue the other options we mentioned above, you can continue to maintain and even build up your body’s physical health without putting it at risk.