Stationary bikes are a safe, low-impact option for seniors.
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When you're choosing exercise equipment, one big hurdle is finding something that you truly enjoy. For some people over age 70, using the treadmill or rowing machine is just fine, but for others, those are too difficult. What you enjoy and what you're capable of using will vary from person to person - but in general, older adults tend to have a few similar concerns. Your first stop in this journey should be to your doctor to get her okay to start working out - but after that, consider a few common issues that older adults tend to deal with.
Decide What You Need
If you haven't exercised in a while - or ever - your balance may be compromised, so you'll need something with sturdy handles or perhaps a seated piece of equipment that won't put you at risk of falling. Many older adults also experience joint pain, so equipment that is low-impact and won't put excess stress on your joints can also be key. Since older adults often struggle with coordination, you may also want something that is not overly complicated and will be easy for beginners to learn. The equipment available in gyms can vary widely, so when you're choosing the best exercise machine in a gym - or buying a machine - keep these factors in mind. There are a few common pieces of equipment that may fit this bill.
Cycle in Place
If you're concerned about joint pain as well as balance, stationary bicycles may be the option that works best for you. You'll be in a seated position, so you won't have to worry about falling. And since you're riding in a controlled environment, you won't be dealing with the rapid stopping or avoiding obstructions that can make biking outdoors more challenging. Stationary bicycles can help you build endurance, improve your cardiovascular fitness and, if you raise the resistance setting, can help you build muscle. A recumbent-style stationary bicycle may be even more ideal, since the leaned-back position puts less strain on your back and knees. A model with arm levers, meanwhile, will allow you to get in a total-body workout. Whatever style you use, make sure the pedals are adjusted so that your legs have a very slight bend when fully extended and pressing into the pedals, or you'll risk injury or unnecessary pain.
Stand Up: The Elliptical
Elliptical trainers offer a workout that is something like cross-country skiing and walking, but without additional impact that can cause pain. Since you have to stand up to use the machine, it's going to require more balance than the stationary bike - but in that standing position you'll burn more calories. Ellipticals often come with arm levers too, meaning you'll have something to hang onto if you need to regain your balance. With added resistance you'll get an endurance workout that can also help you build muscle.
Build Your Strength
Cardiovascular exercise will help you maintain your endurance as you reach your late 70's, 80's and beyond - but it's not the only type of exercise you should be doing. In fact, weight or strength training is the type of exercise you should choose over all others, according to University of Sydney School of Medicine professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, in an article in "The Washington Post." You don't need to invest in a weight bench. The National Institute on Aging recommends using resistance bands or very light dumbbell weights - though circuit training machines or stationary weight machines, in which you're working from a supported or seated position, are also good choices. Strength training machines may be safer for older adults because there is no concern about dropping weights and they are easier to use with proper form. It's especially important for older adults to start with very light weight and then slowly progress to heavier weight, more repetitions or more sets, according to the University of New Mexico. Consider hiring a health coach or trainer who specializes in fitness programs for the elderly to get you started.