Ask LH: What Are Some Good Workouts I Can Do If My Body Isn’t What It Used To Be?

Ask LH: What Are Some Good Workouts I Can Do If My Body Isn’t What It Used To Be?

Dear Lifehacker,

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of exercising, but my body just can’t do it anymore without making me feel like junk all week long. Are there some good workouts that can keep me in shape without putting too much pressure on my joints?


Old Bones

Title image remixed from Andresr (Shutterstock).

Dear OB,

You’re not alone and just because your body isn’t what it used to be (or you’ve just never really been too into working out until now) doesn’t mean you can’t still get a great workout. In fact, many great low-impact exercises exist that can get you in great shape without putting too much strain on your joints and muscles. Better still, as little as two and half hours of light exercise a week can be beneficial, so let’s run down a few of the simplest exercises you can do without the need of special equipment.



Walk 150 Minutes A Week

Walking or light hiking is probably the easiest way to get in a great workout without pushing your body too hard. It’s also not terribly hard to work into your schedule. Provided you walk around at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you’re getting your recommended amount of exercise. You can even break that up into smaller 10 minutes chunks if you like. If you have a dog, take it around the block one more time than usual, hit up every aisle in the grocery store instead of just the ones you need, or walk to lunch instead of driving.

Walking is great, but alone it can’t constitute enough of a workout and be the only part of your low-impact regiment. You’ll also need to work in a few muscle strengthening activities to balance it out, but don’t worry, we have low impact versions of those as well. Image: o5com.



Body Weight Training Two Days A Week

We’ve shown you a ton of different ways to get a workout with just your body and almost all of these will work regardless of the shape you’re in with a few modifications. For instance, if you can’t handle full push-ups, lean against a kitchen counter and do the same push-up movements to increase your arm strength.

Additionally, a lot of simple strength training exercises are very low-impact and easy for almost everyone. Give squats and lunges a try for your legs, and do some lightweight arm raises for your arms (you can just use objects around the house for these). Start by doing these exercises at least two days a week and work up from there as your body gets used to them.

Don’t get worried if your muscles are a little sore afterwards. That’s totally normal, but be careful not to overexert yourself either. Over time you’ll build up strength and be able to handle a little more. Image: Army Medicine.



For Seriously Sore Muscles Try Swimming

Swimming is pretty much the ultimate low-impact workout that’s great for workout beginners and people who might be struggling to get back into shape. If your body is aching, you have a bad knee, or you simply haven’t left your couch in a few years, a hop in the pool is one of the fastest ways to get back in shape.

The reason is pretty simple. Instead of having to walk and do strength exercises separately, swimming will get you both in one shot. The other benefit is that you’re not pounding your feet against pavement, pushing your muscles with weights, or straining against your weight because you’re not as weight-bearing in the water. Swimming laps is considered a vigorous exercise so you only need to schedule in an hour and fifteen minutes a week, but it’s recommended you start with short 30-minute routines.

Once you get going you can expand your workouts accordingly. Just because your body isn’t in the shape it once was doesn’t mean it won’t get there again. You can also mix things up with other low-impact exercises like cycling, rowing, and even light weight training will get you the amount of exercise you need without pushing your body too far. Additionally, plenty of fun alternatives exist that will get you in shape without straining your ailing muscles including golf, Tai Chi and good old ballroom dancing. Image: Jim Bahn.



PS Have some workouts of your own you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments.

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  • Don’t forget to eat well. If you’re new to exercising you might not realise how much more fuel your body will require. Without it, you will certainly feel sore. Increase your protein intake, have a pre-workout and post-workout snack, and drink lots of water. There’s lots of good advice around on what to eat but mostly focus on eating real food (not processed) and balancing protein and carbohydrate as energy sources.

    The soreness is your body recovering from the damage done by exercising; damage you need to do to rebuild stronger muscle fibres. “Feeling like junk all week” is because there’s no fuel to feed that repair work. If you eat more real food, drink lots of water, and get enough rest, you’ll quickly lose that poor feeling and start noticing the benefits of doing the exercises.

    Also, if you’re older or haven’t trained much before, look into incorporating stretching and flexibility into your routine. Older people need to worry about injury prevention as much as actual strength and endurance.

    Good luck, Old Bones. Stay with it. You will love the benefits of being fit and strong, like losing the epithet: Old.

  • I agree that providing adequate nutrition to fuel recovery is very important and easily overlooked (especially volume of quality protein). I think carbs before a reasonable intensity exercise are helpful, but prefer people to tend towards fats for energy as much as they can the rest of the time (Metabolic Flexibility concept ala Mike T Nelson).
    Good nutrition, high hydration and adequate rest are critical; however another concern is simply people’s tendency to do more than needed in the initial stages of exercise.

    You don’t need to push until you “feel tired” or “get really sore”, you just need to start with “more work than usual” and scale up. Don’t worry that you might be “not doing enough” in any workout as you begin, the important thing is starting with something you are definitely capable of and then scaling up.
    The negative associations with “doing too little” in exercise are far less dramatic then the possible negatives from “doing too much” (strains, tearing, all varieties of damage/unnecessary discomfort).
    The body can only adapt so fast.

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