Healthy Aging

How to Find a Workout For Your Condition


It’s hard enough to find a workout you love when your body’s cooperating. When you’re arthritic or have a brand new joint, suffer from a bad back or carry excess weight, finding a workout that works for you is really challenging.

Don’t give up. Even if you’re an exercise avoider with medical or pain issues, there is a fitness routine you can learn to love.

Helen Dobrosielski had always avoided exercise, especially after she developed chronic lower back pain more than a decade ago. Then her son, Cris Dobrosielski, a personal trainer, convinced her to try a warm water therapy class. He told her it might make exercise not only tolerable, but even enjoyable.

Helen was quickly hooked. The big benefit? Pain reduction – her pain went from a 9 to a 4.

We asked Cris and another expert to recommend workouts for four conditions that are common among older people. Dobrosielski is a certified health coach and personal trainer who also serves as a consultant for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. Kimberly Safman, MD, is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California.

Before starting any exercise program, of course, check in to get your doctor’s OK.

Chronic Pain

Think warm water Try an aquatic class or low-intensity swimming.

“Warm water promotes circulation,” Dobrosielski says. And improved circulation is the key to improvement in pain in general. “It delivers blood to the areas that are old and cold.”

Ideally, pain patients should work out in water that’s about 84 to 94 degrees. The temperature of most indoor multi-use pools is usually about 78 to 84 degrees, so if you can find a pool in your area that’s on the warm end of the usual scale, you should feel the benefits. If the facility has a therapeutic pool, the temperature is usually 84 and higher.

You don’t have to be a swimmer to do aquatics; you can do the exercises, including simple walking, and arm and leg workouts, in waist- and shoulder-high water.

Chair yoga is also a good choice. All that stretching helps improve range of motion and strength, Safman finds. Watch this sneak peak of one chair yoga class for older adults.

(Video link)

Conventional yoga is fine if you don’t have trouble doing standing poses or getting up and down from the floor. Dobrosielski suggests looking for a class or video that’s dubbed “gentle,” “slow,” “relaxing” or “restorative.”

Tai chi can be another option. Slow, rhythmic movement, Safman says, helps with balance, preventing falls, and also reduces pain noticeably.

Here’s a glimpse of how tai chi is done.

(Video link)

See our article about Tai Chi for older beginners.

Cardiac Conditions

Take a hike “Walking is number one on the list, as long as you don’t have orthopedic ailments,” Dobrosielski says. It builds endurance in the lower legs while improving how your heart works. And it’s low-cost. All you need is a good pair of shoes.

Start slowly, even 5 minutes at a time. Work up to 20, 30 or 40 minutes a day. Do it gradually. If you want to boost intensity, find some hills.

Here’s more information on how to start a walking program, including tips for warm-ups and how to know if you’re walking too fast.

Read more about exercising with a heart condition.

Post-Joint Replacement

Strength training can be a good workout if you’ve just had a knee, hip or other body part replaced and you’ve been given the all-clear from your doctor. Options include using machines, free weights like dumbbells, and cables to make your body stronger.

Work around your issue. “If you had knee surgery, we want to be selective about the lower body [exercises],” Dobrosielski says. If you belong to a gym, ask one of their trainers to show you proper form. You could also join a group fitness class.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more information on how to start a strength-training program.

If you don’t belong to a gym, you can buy inexpensive lightweight dumbbells at a sporting good store, Dobrosielski says. Start with one-pound weights.  The American Council on Exercise site has tips on how to do strength training correctly.

And here’s a helpful video that can get you started doing upper body strength training while seated. (The series also includes chair workouts for core and cardio.)

(Video link)

Excess Weight

Stationary cycling can be among the most comfortable workouts if you’re overweight. “It’s easier on the knees than walking,” Dobrosielski says. As with walking, start with a few minutes a day and gradually increase the length of your ride” as you gain stamina. It can help you lose weight and keep your heart healthy.

Here are tips on how to start indoor cycling.

If you don’t belong to a gym, consider buying a stationary bike to use at home. They range from under $200 for a manual bike to $2000 for one with electronic settings, and can be upright or recumbent. An inexpensive manual bike might work for you as long as it’s sturdy; many seniors choose recumbent bikes because they’re easier on the joints. Here are some good buying tips.

Low intensity group exercise classes could also work well, helping you shed pounds without engaging in high impact movements that are tough on joints.

Your local Y might offer  low intensity classes.

What types of workouts have helped you stay fit with a temporary or chronic condition?


4 responses to “How to Find a Workout For Your Condition

  1. So can Humor in between the difficulties.
    Like most folks who have survived life’s cosmic jokes including cancer and a brain tumor, I am perfectly fine and laughter has something to do with it. Perhaps it can help your readers as well from my latest Humour book, “Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What!”

    While it is a satirical survival book it also has techniques for getting to a joyful place when one is going through a rough patch. To that end, I am a Master Clinical Hypnotherapist and Founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute where Norman Cousins, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Steve Allen and other prominent healers and celebrities were on my board. Yup, Kathleen, I’m an oldie but the chapters are new– Siri, Internet dating and more. Good luck! Jan Marshall

  2. good ideas.. but why isnt some one promoting this with silver sneakers so its paid for us seniors on fixed income???!! hope someone gets the message and love to see some of these classes offered at my rec center.. seriously!

    1. jwroyaltea,

      thanks for the enthusiasm. Helen Dobrosielski is at the bottom end of the fixed income scale. She pressed her local YWCA, one of the only pools in her little part of New England and they provided her a scholarship for annual membership.

      I’m not sure what facilities are in your area, but reach out to every single one, tell them your motivated, and need some help. I predict they will respond positively. And keep reaching out if need be.

      It will pay off for you.

      Coach Cris

  3. When I stopped being able to take long walks, I still needed to exercise my knees and upper joints. I purchase a Gazelle Edge from Amazon for $100. I absolutely love it. It is an exercise glider that allows you to set your own pace and difficulty levels. Nothing complicated. I’m 60 and had no trouble putting it together.

    However, I developed achilles tendenitis and can’t really do the Gazelle anymore because even though it is low-impact, it still requires putting repetitive weight on my heel. So I purchased a recumbent bicycle (the Marcy Recumbent Mag Cycle for $149) from Amazon and it works well for me, too.

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