As we get older, our backs don’t always do what we want them to. We may have limited flexibility or pain when we move. If you’re a senior and have wondered whether you should start a routine of back exercises, this article is for you. Read on to discover the best back exercises for the elderly that you can do right at home.
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Keep in Mind:
Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.
Benefits of Back Exercises for Elderly
Some days your aches and pains might make you want to just sit there, but moving around is good for your back.
You might think you’re too sore for back exercise, but an exercise plan can actually reduce pain over time. Seniors who exercise regularly develop better muscle tone, reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke and in general live longer with greater mental acuity. The old saw about a sound mind in a sound body has a lot of merit.
Here’s some good news: you don’t have to put yourself through the wringer to strengthen your back and improve your overall health. You don’t even have to go to the gym (although it’s a great place to work out!) Here are 12 exercises you can do at home without any special equipment. Try a few of these and watch your strength, mobility and general feeling of wellness improve.
One general word of advice: form is more important than maximum range of motion. If you can’t do any of these “all the way” and still maintain a straight, posturally correct back, go only as far as you comfortably can.
Best Back Exercises for Elderly
The ideal routine of exercises for seniors includes both stretching exercises and strength exercises. Some of these are done standing up, and for others you use a chair. Only a few require you to get on the floor.
Standing Back Stretches for Seniors
1. Standing Back Extensions
A few standing stretches are a great way to start your day or to do any time during the day, especially after you’ve been sitting for any length of time.
It’s easy! Just lean back!
2. Forward Back Bend
Remember when people urged you to touch your toes, or even harder, lay your palms on the floor? It’s not necessary to bend that far to get the back benefits of a bend.
Take it slow to ensure good balance. If you feel uncomfortably dizzy, skip this one.
3. Standing Back Side Stretch
You’ve gone forward and back. Now go sideways as well!
Sitting Back Stretches for Seniors
You can do your back stretches in a chair, particularly if you have concerns about balance. Use a heavy kitchen chair or dining room chair. No armchairs or captain’s chairs!
4. Seated Back Bend
Replace the standing back extension with this if you’re more comfortable sitting down.
5. Seated Cat and Cow
This classic yoga exercise is usually done on your hands and knees, but you can do it in a chair as well.
Upper Back Exercises for Elderly
The routines of daily life are hard on our upper backs. When we spend time on the computer or watching TV we tend to hunch our upper torso. Most back exercises concentrate on the lower back. These 3 exercises not only strengthen the upper back muscles but also strengthen shoulders and help preserve their range of motion.
A couple of these call for dumbbells, but you can use any light object from a bottle of soda to a can of corn. They’re even beneficial if you do them with nothing in your hands at all!
6. Shoulder Squeeze
7. Shoulder Rotations
As an alternative, exercise both arms at the same time, bringing the arms inward until the hands or dumbbells touch.
8. Bent Shoulder Rows
Lower Back Exercises for Elderly
Many back exercises can be done standing or sitting, but the best lower back strength exercises require you to get on the floor. Here are 4 “classics” that are still around because they’re among the most effective. These are most comfortable on a well-carpeted floor or on a mat.
9. Bird Dog
For an additional challenge, extend the arm and leg on the same side. This requires even more tightening of the abdomen to maintain your balance.
Similar to the bird dog, but you may find this a little more challenging.
For an additional challenge, pause in the raised position and lift one foot briefly from the floor.
This is the first thing many people associate with back exercises, and it’s still one of the best. These aren’t the old fashioned sit-ups, which put too much strain on your spine and discs. With crunches, you do the part that’s beneficial and skip the part that’s risky.
But even crunches can sometimes hard on people who’ve had neck and back injuries. They may not be safe for all seniors. If you do them, here’s how to do them correctly. If they don’t feel right, skip them.
An additional crunch exercise: work your obliques by twisting your upper body as you raise it.
Get Started but Don’t Overdo It
Remember that an effective exercise program starts gradually and builds over time. That’s good advice for people of all ages, and especially for seniors. While exercising regularly requires commitment, a grim-faced determination to grit your teeth and go as hard as you can is as likely to work against you as for you.
The sets and reps numbers listed here are suggestions. Furthermore, while daily exercise is a great practice, you don’t have to do these every single day to get the benefits. If you’ve been thinking about protecting and strengthening your back, a few times a week is an excellent start.
Exercise is a gift you give yourself. If you make back stretching and strengthening a regular practice, it won’t result in a radical overnight change to your life, but rather quickly you're likely to feel a bit better and find the tasks of daily living a little easier.