Ease into fitness and boost health with low-intensity, low-impact activities

A 2018 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that men in their 70s and 80s who did low-intensity physical activity for 30 minutes a day lived 17% longer on average than those who were sedentary. While many studies have shown the health benefits of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, this new research suggests that low-intensity activities like walking the dog and light gardening are beneficial, as well and may be more realistic for many older adults.

Low-intensity exercise also improves flexibility, balance, lower limb muscle strength and depression for older women and men, according to a 2015 study in Sports Medicine. It offers the added advantages of promoting health by being more accessible and less intimidating for seniors, reducing the risk of injuries and being more sustainable, the researchers suggest.

Better balance, fewer falls

Tai chi, a traditional Chinese martial art that is low-intensity and low-impact, is a popular choice of exercise for older adults that has proven effective in preventing falls. The Journal of Gerontology reported that physically-inactive older adults who started doing tai chi three times a week for six months had fewer falls, a lower risk of falls and less fear of falling than older adults who didn’t.

Low-impact exercise is safe and beneficial for older adults who are new to exercise, recovering from injury, and have problems with theirs hips, knees and ankle joints, says Physiotherapy Alberta.

Low-impact, high benefit

Here are some common forms of low-impact exercises that offer multiple health benefits:

-Aquatic exercise is a low-impact workout that’s gentle on joints, bones and muscles. Aquatic exercise is at least as effective as land-based exercise for improving strength, endurance, flexibility and physical function, according to McMaster University.

-Walking is an aerobic exercise that’s gentle on the back, good for overall conditioning and reduces the risk of disability by 41%, according to the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy.

-Sitting or chair exercises can build muscle, increase blood circulation and keep the joints lubricated to improve mobility.

-Practicing gentle yoga helps to improve balance, ease lower back pain and improve quality of life, says McMaster University.

-Frequent dancing lowers the risk for dementia, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.