Exercising Seniors Need Strength, Not Pain

For seniors who want to begin an exercise program, there is one important rule to keep in mind: If it hurts, do not do it.

“Older adults sometimes remember exercises they were able to do in their younger years and try to return to those activities right away,” says Brian C. Schafer, MD, orthopedic surgeon who practices at Saint Francis Healthcare System. “Then, they develop an overuse injury and quit because they hurt themselves. It is important to have a realistic judgment of your own ability before you start a program.”

Light resistance exercises such as weight training are very good for older people. As you age, your muscle mass decreases, which can make you more susceptible to injury. Lifting even light weights can help you slowly increase your strength, which protects you from falls and even helps you get up out of a chair.

Basic aerobic exercise is also important. “If you have access to a pool, water aerobics is a great form of exercise for seniors,” says Schafer. “In particular, seniors with arthritis can benefit because it takes stress off their joints. You can do much more in the pool than on land, and you are less likely to injure yourself in the water.”

Another good aerobic exercise for people with arthritis is cycling. “Cycling relieves your joints of stress,” says Schafer. “But you have to make sure you adjust your bike correctly. At the bottom of the pedal stroke if you place your heel on the pedal your knee should be straight or very slightly bent. If your knee is still bent, you need to raise the seat.”

If weights, swimming and cycling sound too intimidating to you, walking can be just as beneficial – especially if you are just starting to become active. “Walking is the safest and easiest exercise,” says Schafer. “If you have not exercised in many years, start with walking and work your way up.”

“Saint Francis’ Fitness Plus has many exercise programs for seniors,” Schafer continues. “The facility has classes specially designed with older adults in mind, which can be great for both active adults and those who are just starting to exercise.”

For more information on Fitness Plus and available classes, call 573-331-3000.