Reduce Back Pain: 5 quick and easy exercises to reduce back pain

Staying active as you age

Picture of Chris Dounis

Chris Dounis

Chris is an accredited exercise physiologist with over 15 years professional experience working with a wide range of clients.
Learn more about Chris here.

In Australia only around one in 10 Australians over the age of 50 exercises enough to gain any cardiovascular benefit. Some research suggest lack of physical activity is associated with approximately half of the physical decline associated with old age. It has been proposed that people 65 years or older require adequate fitness levels to help them maintain independence, recover from illness and reduce their high risk of disease.

Various studies show that it is never too late to improve fitness. The body will respond to exercise, no matter what its age, and there are many health benefits.

Without regular exercise, people over the age of 50 years can experience a range of health problems including:

  • Reduced muscle mass, strength and physical endurance
  • Reduced coordination and balance
  • Reduced joint flexibility and mobility
  • Reduced cardiovascular and respiratory function
  • Reduced bone strength
  • Increased body fat levels
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased susceptibility to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of various diseases including cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Some older people believe that exercise is no longer appropriate when they age. Some of the common misconceptions around exercise in the older demographic include:

  • Older people are frail and physically weak.
  • The human body doesn’t need as much physical activity as it ages.
  • Exercising is hazardous for older people because they may injure themselves.
  • Only vigorous and sustained exercise is of any use.

There are however other reasons for a decline in physical activity in those over 50 years old, which include:

  • Some older people may have a preference for sedentary activities, such as reading, watching TV, socialising, ect.
  • The relatively high cost of some sports may exclude some people.
  • Many sports and activities tend to attract young adults, so older people may feel unwelcome.
  • The physical fitness marketplace has failed to include and attract older people.

However it is still very important that those over the age of 50 continue to exercise or increase the level of exercise they undertake. Older adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none. Older adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity gain some health benefits. Your health benefits will also increase with the more physical activity that you do.

Some of the benefits of regular exercise for older people include:

Muscle

The amount and size of muscle fibres decreases with age. Some studies suggest that the average body loses around 3kg of lean muscle every decade from middle age. The muscle fibres that seem to be most affected are those of the ‘fast twitch’ variety, which are responsible for strength and speed in contractions. There is evidence to suggest that these changes are related to a sedentary lifestyle, rather than age. Muscle mass can increase in the older person after regularly exercising for a relatively short period of time.

Bone

Bone density begins to decline after the age of 40, but this loss accelerates around the age of 50 years. As a result of this bone loss, older people are more prone to bone fractures. Exercise may help to reduce the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise, in particular, helps to keep bones healthy and strong as the bones adapt to withstand the additional forces placed upon them.

Heart and lungs

Moderate intensity exercise is most favourable: for example, exercising at about 70 per cent of the individual’s maximum heart rate (220 beats per minute minus your age). Studies show that cardiorespiratory fitness takes longer to achieve in an older person than a young person, but the physical benefits are similar. Regardless of age, people are able to improve their cardiorespiratory fitness through regular exercise.

Joints

The joints of the body require regular movement to remain supple and healthy. In particular, people with arthritis can benefit from aerobic and strengthening exercise programs.

Body fat levels

Carrying too much body fat is associated with a range of diseases including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Regular exercise burns kilojoules, increases muscle mass and increases a person’s metabolism. In conjunction, these physiological changes help an older person maintain an appropriate weight.

How to begin training

If you are over 40 years, obese, suffer from a chronic illness or have been sedentary for some time, see your doctor before you start a new exercise routine.

Choose activities you find fun and interesting. You are more likely to keep up with an exercise routine if it’s fun and something you enjoy

Exercise with friends. Make physical activity an enjoyable social occasion!

Safe, easy and comfortable forms of exercise include walking, swimming and cycling.

Weight training can increase your muscle mass – programs as short as six to eight weeks can be beneficial.

Start off slowly and aim for small improvements. Keep track of your progress in a training diary for added motivation.

Check your pulse frequently to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.

Choose appropriate clothing and safety gear.

Drink plenty of water.

You will find more information and suggestions in the Australian Government’s physical activity guide for older Australians: Choose Health: Be Active.

Exercising with chronic illnesses

Some older people have chronic illnesses (such as severe arthritis, osteoporosis or advanced cardiovascular disease) that limit their choice of physical activities. In these situations, it is best to consult closely with your doctor, exercise physiologist or health care professional to devise an exercise program that is healthy and safe.

Pre-exercise screening is used to identify people with medical conditions that may put them at a higher risk of a experiencing a health problem during physical activity. It is a filter or ‘safety net’ to help decide if the potential benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for you.

Disclaimer

This series does not serve as specific medical advice, and should be viewed as educational ONLY. Chronic pain is an individual and complex experience, and as such, any treatment needs to be tailored to the individual. Always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any treatment or exercise program.

 

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