Seven Low-Impact Exercises for Olympians of All Ages

With the 2016 Rio Olympics well underway, many in the SelectCare community are asking themselves how they can stay physically fit and active as they age.  While some athletes continue to compete well-past retirement age, we decided to instead focus on some practical forms of low-impact exercise anyone can perform.

Why Go Low-Impact?

Low-impact exercise results in less wear and tear on our bodies, especially joints, muscles, and our feet. By engaging in exercise that preserves these parts of the body, an older adult can continue to preserve and improve their physical fitness without increasing the chances of exercise-related injuries in their day-to-day life.

Tai Chi is becoming increasingly popular with older athletes. Photo Credit: TheTaiChiClub via

Tai Chi is becoming increasingly popular with older athletes. Photo Credit: TheTaiChiClub via

The Big Four

When considering exercise options, it is important to remember these four broad categories of exercise and how they help you perform daily tasks.  By establishing an exercise routine that covers all four categories, you can gain a major leg up in preserving your physical abilities:

1 – Endurance:  Exercise that focuses on cardiovascular strength, like walking or jogging, can help make a trip to the supermarket or bank less daunting.

2 – Strength:  Anaerobic exercise focuses on muscle strength, making tasks like lifting a bag of groceries or firmly shutting a door possible.

3 – Balance:  Improving balance through exercise is a great way to safeguard against falls.

4 – Flexibility:  Like so many other things, if you don’t use it, you will lose it.  By regularly stretching and using your body’s full range of motion, tasks like bending down to tie your shoe or pick up a dropped coin become much less daunting.

Suggested Low Impact Exercises

The following list outlines some exercise options that improve one or more of the above categories of physical fitness.

1. Walking – It might not be as exciting as water polo, but it requires less equipment and is much easier on your horse.  Waking is a great endurance exercise that also helps you remain engaged in your neighborhood.

  • Try to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. These shoes should offer good cushioning, heel support, and leave a little bit of wiggle room for your toes.  Remember, feet expand over the course of long walks, so the added space will prevent discomfort.
  • Good posture is the key to walking comfortably. Keep your back as straight as possible with your shoulders rolled back.
  • Start with shorter walks and build up to multi-mile excursions. Shorter, more regular periods of exercise are better for your overall health than once-a-week long hauls.
  • After your walk, stretch your calves, hamstrings and ankles to ensure they do not stiffen up upon returning home.

2.  Swimming – Swimming is a great low-impact endurance and flexibility exercise.  Water relieves stress on joints and bones and frees your body to engage in a full range of motions.

  • Try to use different types of strokes throughout your workout. This will allow you to strengthen different muscle groups while getting an all-around cardio work out.
  • Just because you are surrounded by water doesn’t mean you won’t get thirsty. When swimming, be sure to come out of the pool periodically to drink water.

3.  Biking – While colliding with a jaywalker certainly constitutes a high-impact workout, cycling is actually a wonderful form of endurance and balance exercise.  If a bike is properly fitted to the rider, wear-and-tear on joints is minimal.  Combine this with a bicycle’s ability to carry heavy loads and your trips to the grocery store might soon double as your new exercise routine.

  • The key to successful cycling is ensuring your bicycle fits your body. When pedaling, your legs should never fully extend as this causes additional wear on your knees.  Consult a local shop for assistance on finding the proper fit and seat height.
  • Avoid bicycles that hunch you over the handlebars. Many commuter-style bikes allow riders to sit almost perfectly upright while offering plenty of speed.  Recumbent bicycles are another good option to avoid hunching, however recumbent riders are strongly encouraged to affix a tall flag to their bike if they plan on hitting heavily-trafficked streets.
  • Wear a helmet at all times, especially when riding in urban environments. If it makes you feel nerdy, remember that Neil Armstrong, Patton, and Evel Knievel all wore helmets while accomplishing great things.

4.  Stretching – A great option for those looking to improve flexibility or as a way to prepare for other types of exercise, stretching can be done throughout the day.  Be sure to focus on your neck, shoulders, upper arms, chest, back, hips, calves, and ankles for best results.

  • If it hurts – stop! While stretching should allow you to feel a pull on your muscles, you should never stretch in a way that causes acute pain.  The soreness from overstretching can oftentimes undo your progress.
  • Don’t forget to breathe when holding a stretch. Your body is dependent on oxygen when exercising, so take slow, deep breaths whenever possible.

5.  Weights – Weight training is a great way to improve muscle strength – just don’t grab the heaviest object you can find.  Light weight lifts (think less than 5 pounds) performed regularly can net the same, sometimes better, results than heavy weight lifting.  For best results, try to exercise every group of muscles in your body twice a week in 30-minute sessions, leaving at least one day between sessions so each muscle group has time to rest.

  • Start small! For beginners, consider using the lightest weights you can find, or better yet, forgo the weights and simply perform a weight lift exercise routine with empty hands. After 30 minutes, they will feel heavy enough on their own!
  • Before beginning a weight lifting regimen, it might be wise to speak with a trainer to determine what type of weight routine will most benefit you without increasing the chances of an injury.

6.  Water Aerobics – Think “stretching meets swimming” and you will have a good idea of what to expect at a water aerobics class.  What you might not expect is that this activity touches on all four categories of exercise discussed at the top of this article.

  • Bring a friend! Water aerobics classes are light-hearted affairs and having a friend to sweat alongside can be a great motivator.
  • Mix it up. Water Aerobics is such a popular form of exercise that you can find tons of different sessions at public pools and YMCA locations.  If a routine is becoming too routine, don’t be afraid to try a new class.

7 . Yoga/Tai Chi – For many newcomers, the word “yoga” elicits images of human pretzels and excessive wheatgrass consumption.  In reality, yoga is another great all-around form of exercise that can improve your range of motion, balance, strength, and endurance.

As an alternative, Tai Chi is becoming increasingly popular with many older adults.  The slow, meditative movements of Tai Chi might not seem like calorie-burners, but the slower pace allows newcomers ample time to catch up to their classmates and requires a surprising amount of strength, balance, and flexibility.

  • Many yoga studios offer senior-specific classes. If these are unavailable (or fully booked,) a beginner class is definitely the right place to get started.
  • For the self-conscious, there are countless free, online sources for yoga instructional videos. Websites like Do Yoga With Me are a great resource.
  • Tai Chi newcomers are encouraged to take a few lessons before striking out on their own. The subtle movements of a Tai Chi routine require a fair amount of attention to detail in order to generate positive results.

As you can see, there are countless ways to remain physically active without overstressing your body.  That said, it is important to respect your body’s limits and rest before you have reached the point of exhaustion. Overexertion can easily undo progress gained while exercising and no one wants to miss an exercise session due to a prior injury.

Before beginning any new exercise routine, it is important to speak with your physician to determine an appropriate level of physical activity.  This conversation should also include a discussion of what, if any, medications you currently take, as they can have an impact on how your body reacts to heightened levels of activity.

We hope you found this list of low-impact exercises useful and informative.  At SelectCare, our team of home health care experts work closely with clients to help them remain physically active and engaged in their communities no matter what challenges they face.  To learn more about SelectCare and how a home caregiver can help you reach your fitness goals, call us today or request a free home health care guide.