In starting out with an exercise program, especially for older adults that are new to exercising, it can be very intimidating. If you suffer from a chronic injury, pain, or health issues it can be even harder to start an exercise program if you are worried about hurting yourself. That is why it is so important to know that you can do almost any exercise, if you do it with exercise modifications.
There are modifications (or “level versions”) for virtually almost every exercise, making them appropriate and safe for any fitness level. These modifications can help to alleviate fears that someone may have of hurting themselves or looking awkward (which seems to be a bigger concern for the guys) – or if they already have an injury and yet still want to get fit in a safe manner. As an example, instead of doing cardio that is high impact (such as running, jumping or skipping), someone could use the bikes, rowing machines or swimming pool exercises, which are all great and highly effective ways of getting cardio and yet much easier on your joints.
Exercises that focus more on balance, coordination, muscle strength and flexibility are especially critical for older adults, but so are functional exercises. These are exercises that focus on building a body that is capable of undertaking real life activities in real life positions. A squat is the perfect example of this, and is an exercise that works both strength and balance. You have to be able to get up from a chair or seated position when you sit down, if you are no longer able to do this, then independence becomes an issue. Some great modifications for the squat are using a ball (like a Bender ball) behind your low back to keep your posture correct, or not going down as far if you have sore knees. If the squat is just too hard at this point to do, there is always exercises that you can do in a chair that will strengthen your leg muscles and core that will eventually get you to be able to do the squat. Chair sit to stands are another very important exercise in building core strength. A great modification for the sit to stand exercise is to use more blocks or support so that it is not as much effort to go from the seated position to standing because of the extra height support.
Everyone needs to practice balance every day, this becomes even more crucial as we age. No matter what level you are at you can start with doing some balance work. You can use a chair or wall, or any sturdy surface for support with balance work to help you. As you progress with your balance by practicing every day, you might reach the point where you are able to not use as many props to help support you and you might even be able to do some balance work on your own at some point.
What I really want to emphasize is that there are modifications that can be made to most exercises to make them safer and applicable for you, despite any prior injuries or limitations you may have. Do not let the fear of not being able to do certain exercises because of pain, age, health or medical concerns keep you from starting or continuing with an exercise program that will work for you. The exciting part of sticking with your new exercise program is that one day you will be able to do some of those exercises that you never thought you could in a way that is safe and effective for you. Once those exercises that you thought you could not do become too easy, you can always use modifications to make them harder as well!