Health & Wellness

When cold weather forces you inside, there are still several tried-and-true ways to get your weight-training and cardio exercises.

We can’t deny it anymore -- studies show we need to get off the couch.

To maintain good health that extends into our senior years, experts say we need at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week. That seems easy enough with a brisk walk on a summer evening or a refreshing morning swim. But when the cold weather moves an exercise routine indoors, many seniors hit the gym for a quick session of weight-training or cardio exercise.

With a variety of shiny yet intimidating contraptions clustered in the corner, which are the best exercise equipment choices for seniors?

Here are four of the most popular and effective forms of exercise for seniors -- and everyone else.

1. Treadmill

Yes, the old reliable rarely disappoints. With walking being the most popular form of exercise for people over 50, it seems natural to transition to a treadmill during inclement weather. A treadmill provides all of the advantages of walking while reducing the risk of falls. The handrail enables users to walk confidently at a pace that best fits their walking ability, and users can select an incline that best meets their fitness level.

2. Elliptical machine

For a low-impact machine that packs a healthy dose of aerobic exercise, the elliptical may be a great alternative to the treadmill. “The elliptical offers a lower-impact workout than the treadmill. For older adults suffering from arthritis and joint pain it is the better option,” wrote health contributor Erin Zeggert. The design places less stress on the back, knees and hips while increasing heart rate to levels necessary to sustain good health.

3. Weight training

Strength-training is an important part of maintaining flexibility, building muscle and improving blood circulation, but free weights can be unpredictable. “It is important to find just the right intensity when exercising for strength,” said Doug Schrift, PT. "You must find a balance between increasing how much you are lifting and preventing injury.” Schrift said people could increase the lift weight after about two weeks from the onset of strength exercises.

Proper form is essential with free weights. Using poor form while lifting can do more harm than good to muscles and joints and some exercises can knock the user off-balance. Fortunately, most gyms have a variety of weight-training equipment that is designed to encourage proper form when using the machine and reduces the risks of falling or other hazards sometimes associated with free weights.

“Strength training is an important part of rehab and recovery for our residents,” said Clay Gardner, executive director of Vista Knoll Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation. “Our staff makes sure each patient is using the equipment correctly to prevent further injury, and we offer alternative moves that promote a quick recovery without pain.”

4. Recumbent bike

“Biking rates among people between the ages of 60 and 79 are soaring,” wrote Michael Anderson, a writer for the Green Lane Project. “New trips by seniors account for 22 percent of the nation’s growth in adult biking.” But for those recovering from hip or back surgery or arthritis pain, the position of a cycle, even a stationary bike, is uncomfortable. The recumbent bike is designed with a backrest for support and places users at an angle where the legs are out in front of the cycle instead of on the sides of the machine. This position places less stress on fragile hips or joints yet offers a tremendous aerobic workout.

5. Chair yoga

Seniors love their yoga. The popularity of yoga and Pilates among people over 50 is growing faster than you can say Bhekasana. But, some poses present painful challenges even to the most dedicated of yoga enthusiasts. For those recovering from injury or suffering from limited mobility, chair yoga provides all of the benefits of traditional yoga without the gravity-defying poses that sometimes risk pulling a muscle or damaging joints. It also benefits those who have limited time but want to relax or reinvigorate their day with a quick pick-me-up without having to leave the office.

Although the form of exercise may not always fit our stage in life, the need for fitness is something you never outgrow. By incorporating exercise that best matches your present fitness level and abilities into your daily routine, you are on the path to healthy living for many years to come.