Exercise and physical activity are good for just about everyone, including older adults. In previous posts we looked at the many benefits that accrue to seniors who exercise and suggested ways to get started.

To briefly recapitulate, among its benefits we saw that exercise helps older adults maintain or lose weight; it reduces the impact of illness and chronic disease; it enhances mobility, flexibility, and balance in adults over 50; it improves sleep quality; it boosts mood and self-confidence; and, it is good for the brain.

When getting started we saw that it is vitally important to get medical clearance from your doctor; consider health concerns by keeping in mind how your ongoing health problems affect your workouts; start slow because if you haven’t been active in a while, it can be harmful to go “all out; commit to an exercise schedule for at least 3 or 4 weeks so that it becomes habit, and force yourself to stick with it; stay motivated by focusing on short-term goals; and, recognize problems, i.e., exercise should never hurt or make you feel lousy.

In this section I would like to discuss the subject of “low-impact” and “no-impact” exercises and suggest why these are the types most recommended for seniors.

Simply stated, a workout is low-impact if at least one of your feet remains in contact with the ground at all times. Walking, hiking, rollerblading and most step aerobics and cardio dance workouts are low-impact. Some people consider exercises such as water aerobics, swimming, cycling and the elliptical machine to be low impact as well, but you may also see these described as “no impact” since both feet stay on the ground at all times and/or your body is supported during movement (by water or a machine). Seated workouts and gentler mat-based workouts such as Pilates and yoga may also be considered low or no-impact since they do not involve excessive pounding or force on the lower body joints.

By contrast, “high-impact” exercises are workouts in which both feet leave the ground at the same time, as is the case during running, hopping, jumping rope, skipping, jumping jacks, some step aerobics (if you jump on or off the step or run around the room), and some cardio dancing that involves leaping.

High-impact exercises tend to be more intense overall and therefore burn more calories. They may even strengthen bones better than lower impact options, but any impact can help with that, even if it’s light. These types of exercises should be reserved for people who already have a baseline of fitness and are at low risk for joint problems because they pose a higher risk for injury, especially to the ankle, knee and hip joints as well as the spine.

Besides being most appropriate for seniors, Low-impact exercises are also appropriate for beginners, as well as people with arthritis or osteoporosis, individuals who are obese, pregnant women, and people with bone, joint, or connective tissue injuries. That’s because low-impact exercise tend to be less jarring on the body and joints, and less intense overall. According to the American Council on Exercise, keeping at least one foot on the ground at all times also reduces your risk of musculoskeletal injury.

In upcoming Posts we’ll be examine the different types of exercise and look at their relative benefits, merits and ease of use.

So, till then stay fit, happy and healthy.