Monday, March 18, 2019

The 7 Worst Exercises for Older Adults

woman doing a squat

Every human body ages at its own pace, leaving us with vastly different abilities and limitations. But some exercises are unsafe for almost everyone over 60. Here are the ones to avoid—and what to do instead.

I see George around the gym all the time. We’re both lunchtime regulars and typically acknowledge each other with a customary nod. But I’d never started a conversation until the other day, when I noticed he was limping. I asked what happened.
That launched us into a long and winding conversation, which is how it goes with workout injuries. The older you get, the harder it is to describe any single problem in a straightforward way. Each new one is linked to an older one, and each older one has its own history.
George told me his limp was caused by back problems, which in turn were linked to a hip replacement. After that surgery, he saw a physical therapist whose program included an exercise called the leg press.
The first time he did leg presses, he felt uncomfortable. The second time, he felt shooting pains down both legs. Soon his sciatica was so severe he needed a series of pain-numbing epidural injections just to move around again. Months later, like I said, he was still limping.
I told him I was surprised his therapist had put leg presses into his program. Even more surprising: George’s therapist also had him doing crunches. Back specialist Stuart McGill, Ph.D., warned about the dangers of both exercises in Low Back Disorders, a book he published in 2002. How could a rehab specialist not know this in 2017?
When I told this story to Alexandra Smith, a trainer in Los Angeles who works primarily with older clients, she said it happens a lot.
“I’ve had many clients whose doctors and therapists gave them things that are completely detrimental to their well-being,” she says.
It even happened to her: She saw seven different physical therapists for a shoulder injury, and only two of them helped her. Several gave her exercises that made the problem worse.
That brought us to an important question: Are there some exercises that older adults should never do—or at least use with extreme caution? It’s not an easy question to answer, but there are three types of exercises that often present more risk than reward.

Exercises That Can Create New Problems

Leg press: Smith puts this at the top of the list for multiple reasons. To do the exercise, you straighten your legs by pushing with your feet against a weighted platform. Because your upper body is supported by a padded bench, you have the illusion that your lower back is protected. Click here to continue reading.

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