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Ask an Expert: What are the Benefits of Low Impact Exercise?

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Most of us know that regular physical activity is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. But for older adults who have arthritis or an existing injury, some forms of exercise can be uncomfortable and even painful.

Alex Sheets, Bethany Village Exercise Specialist
Alex Sheets, Bethany Village Exercise Specialist

One way older adults can avoid joint stress and pain while exercising is by keeping impact low. We recently asked Alex Sheets, Exercise Specialist at Bethany Village, to explain more about the importance of low impact exercise for older adults.

What does “low impact” mean?

Put simply, low impact exercise is any activity that is easy on the joints and fluid in motion. For people with arthritis or another form of joint pain, low impact exercise is essential for strengthening the muscles around their joints and improving bone strength. In low impact exercises, usually at least one foot remains in contact with the ground at all times or the entire body is supported. Examples of low impact exercises include things like walking, swimming, aqua aerobics, cycling, yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi.

How can older adults build strength safely?

At Bethany Village, all of the strength machines in our Fitness Center are designed to be low impact. Instead of bulky metal plates, our strength machines use compressed air pressure to create resistance, which makes them very user-friendly. With just the touch of a button, you can add resistance to any movement you’re doing, in one-pound increments. With free weights or machines that use metal plates as weights, you might have to add five to ten pounds at a time. If you were to lose control of the weight suddenly, it could put you at risk for injury.

It’s safer and more beneficial for older adults with arthritis or joint pain to add weight slowly, in small increments. With the new machines we have, there’s a smooth, constant source of air pressure throughout the entire range of motion, which puts less stress on muscles, joints, and tissues.

What are the best low impact cardio exercises?

Walking is by far the most popular low impact exercise because it can be done both indoors and outdoors. We highly recommend that older adults who have arthritis or joint pain walk throughout the day. A lack of movement can actually make joints more stiff and painful. In our updated Fitness Center, we have new cardio machines that are ideal for low impact exercise, including recumbent steppers, treadmills, and bikes.

The recumbent stepper machines are particularly useful for older adults because they allow users to remain in a safe, seated position, making the exercise very easy on the knees and hips. Instead of a bicycle movement, the machine simulates the motion of walking up stairs. If your goal is strength training, you can adjust the resistance higher to get a strength workout. These machines are great for older adults who have mobility challenges or for those rehabilitating after a joint replacement surgery or cardiac event.

As always, consult with your physician before trying any new exercise.

Written by Bethany Village

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