16 Of The Best Pieces Of Gym Equipment For Seniors
As we get older, staying fit and healthy becomes increasingly more important to keep us independent and injury free. However, it also becomes more challenging to stay active due to age related bone loss and muscular atrophy, which can make it harder to keep our bodies supported and injury free when exercising.
Here, PureGym Portsmouth North Harbour personal trainer Phil Carpenter explains how different pieces of gym equipment can help to keep our workouts effective as we get older, while minimising any risk of injury.
Why Is Physical Activity So Important As We Get Older?
As we get older, our physical and cognitive health starts to decline, which can impact how we function day to day.
Cognitive health covers many aspects of our daily functioning: memory, concentration, dealing with distractions, solving problems, and making decisions. A decline in cognitive health can make it harder for older adults to live independently.
Physical health includes having the strength, endurance, balance, and mobility to carry out daily activities like walking, shopping, cleaning, and more. Ageing can be associated with health issues like arthritis and osteoporosis, affecting muscles, bones and, as a result, overall mobility. Aging also increases the risk of falls, and weaker muscles, joints, and bones can mean a greater risk of serious injury from these falls.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. Physical activity helps to improve both physical and cognitive health and can help to slow the decline of these functions in older adults. While low levels of physical activity have been linked with frailty in older people, research shows that regular exercise can improve mobility and increase the chances of living comfortably and independently.
Some of the physical benefits of exercise for older adults including maintaining and improving joint function, coordination and balance, preventing muscle atrophy and bone loss, and maintaining or improving mobility. The mental benefits include better cognitive functioning, increased self confidence and mood, and improved independence and wellbeing.
Keeping active also reduces the risk of mortality and chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and dementia, which are more common in older adults, and helps with weight loss or weight management.
How Can Different Gym Equipment Help Seniors When Working Out?
Exercising causes small amounts of damage to the joints and muscles, and it is the repairing of this damage that makes the tissues stronger. As we get older, we need to be more careful as the joints, muscles, and tendons are more fragile due to age related wear and tear. We still want to challenge the body enough to increase strength, but without causing injuries or irreparable damage.
Various gym equipment, including weights machines and cardio equipment, can provide a controlled environment for exercising while targeting specific areas or muscles of the body.
These are just some of the reasons why making the most of your local gym equipment (or picking some workout items to use at home) is great for seniors:
Offers a safe approach to training: most machines have safety features that can help reduce the risk of injury - they’ll offer support and stability while still providing all the fitness benefits of a workout.
Helps improve strength: weight machines, resistance bands and free weights can all help seniors to improve their strength and functional abilities, all of which are essential for maintaining and building body muscle mass.
Boosts your cardio health: treadmills, stationary bikes, rowing machines and ellipticals can all provide low-impact exercise that will help to improve heart health, lung capacity, and overall endurance without putting excessive strain on your joints.
Improves balance and stability: balance training becomes increasingly important with age to prevent falls and injuries. Gym equipment like stability balls (also known as yoga balls or gym balls) and resistance machines with balance components can help gym goers of all ages to improve balance and coordination. You can find some of the best balance exercises for seniors here.
Helps with flexibility and mobility: equipment like foam rollers, yoga mats and stretching machines can help improve range of motion and flexibility, both of which are key for performing daily activities safely and independently.
It is fully adjustable: most gym equipment allows users to adjust settings like resistance and intensity, making them accessible and suitable for seniors of all ages, fitness levels and abilities.
16 Of The Best Pieces Of Gym Equipment For Seniors
Stepping into a gym can be overwhelming at first thanks to the variety of kit. To help you get started, here is a list of some great exercise equipment you can find in your local gym and what they can be used for.
Best For… Cardio Fitness
One of the most popular cardio machine in the gym, the treadmill gives users the ability to walk or jog indoors. This is perfect for maintaining and improving your cardiovascular health and endurance and burning calories, all in a safe and controlled environment. You can set your own pace and incline and stop whenever you need. Commercial treadmills also have plenty of safety features like handrails and emergency stops.
Elliptical / Cross trainer
The elliptical, also known as a cross trainer, is a great low impact cardio machine that can be used as an alternative to the treadmill. Elliptical machines replicate the motion of running, but with less pressure on the joints as your feet stay on the pedals in a smooth and continuous motion.
The arms are also involved, giving a full-body workout that burns calories while reducing the risk of strain or injury. This means you can enjoy all the benefits of walking and running, like stronger lower body muscles and improved cardiovascular fitness, without putting excessive stress on your knees, hips, or back.
Recumbent Exercise Bike
The recumbent exercise bike is a stationary cardio machine that combines a regular exercise bike with a comfortable and supportive seat and backrest. It offers all the usual benefits of cycling - a low-impact cardiovascular workout that improves heart health, burns calories, and increases leg strength, without putting stress on the joints. The additional benefit of providing more back support makes the recumbent exercise bike ideal for seniors with joint issues or balance concerns.
Another non-weight bearing piece of equipment is the rowing machine. This full-body, low-impact cardio and strength training option goes through the motions of rowing on water, but with the ability to adjust resistance and speed with ease. You’ll be able to get a great workout with minimal stress on your joints.
Best For… Strength And Resistance
Resistance bands are flexible, elastic bands that come in a range of different sizes and resistance strengths, making them suitable for all fitness levels. They’re often used for rehabilitating muscle and joint injuries due to their low impact nature, and they’re ideal for older exercisers as they can be used to build strength and stability with low risk of injury.
Resistance bands are versatile, easy to use, and cheap to buy, so you don’t need to have a gym membership to use this kit. With a single set of bands, seniors can target a range of different muscle groups, helping to maintain functional strength and independence in daily activities.
Check out our beginner’s guide to resistance bands for more information, as well as some example exercises to try.
A stability ball, also known as a Swiss ball, yoga ball or exercise ball, is a large inflatable ball that can be used for various exercises to engage the core, balance and stability muscles. Seniors can benefit from using a stability ball for gentle strengthening exercises, flexibility work, and improving balance. As you sit or lean on the unstable ball, you need to engage multiple muscle groups at the same time to stay stable, which helps build your core and balance.
Discover some of our favourite stability ball exercises here.
Seated Back Row
The seated back row is designed to target the muscles in the upper back and shoulders. For older exercisers, this machine offers a safe and controlled way to strengthen your back muscles, which can help improve posture and reduce the risk of back pain. Since it’s performed in a seated position, it’s particularly suited for seniors with limited mobility, and you’re less likely to experience balance issues while working out.
The TRX system is a set of adjustable straps that are anchored to a stable point (usually a rig or pull-up bar). These straps have handles and can be used to perform various exercises, with a combination of your body weight and gravity used to provide resistance.
One of the most popular exercises is the TRX row, which is a great, low-impact, upper-body workout that can easily be adjusted to different skill levels.
Lateral Pull-Down Machine
The lateral pull-down machine is a piece of strength training equipment that will target the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms. It allows users to perform pulling exercises while seated, which is particularly helpful for seniors as it provides back support and increases stability, reducing the risk of strain on the lower back.
Strengthening the back and shoulder muscles can help improve posture, reduce the risk of shoulder injuries, and enhance overall upper-body strength and stability.
An exercise mat provides a cushioned surface for performing floor exercises, including sit-ups, abdominal crunches, stretching, and yoga. This equipment is easy to use and affordable to buy for at home, making it accessible to seniors for core strengthening, flexibility, and balance training. Regular core exercises help maintain a strong and stable core, which is essential for supporting the spine, reducing back pain, and improving functional movement.
If you’re just getting started, check out these yoga poses for beginners, all of which just require a yoga mat.
Light dumbbells are small handheld weights that offer a wide range of resistance options for strength training. They can be used to target all kinds of different muscle groups, including arms, shoulders, and legs. Strength training with dumbbells helpd prevent muscle loss, increase bone density, and enhance functional strength for everyday tasks.
Using light dumbbells is suitable for more elderly users, especially if you haven’t exercised in a few years. As you build strength, you can progress to heavier dumbbells.
We cover a range of dumbbell exercises for beginners here.
Seated Shoulder Press Machine
The seated shoulder press machine targets the muscles of the shoulders and upper arms. You add or select the appropriate weight, and then push upwards against the handles to extend your arms - you can find out more about how to use the shoulder press machine here. This is all done from a seated position, making this accessible to everyone looking to improve shoulder strength and stability and is great for maintaining or improving when lifting or reaching.
Leg Curl Machine
Hamstring strength is important for maintaining balance when standing or walking, and keeping these leg muscles in good shape will help prevent falls. The leg curl machine is one of the most effective ways to target the hamstrings muscles in a safe, supported way. You lie face down on the machine’s bench, with your lower calves and ankles tucked under a weighted pad - you then bend your knees to raise the pad.
While there are plenty of hamstring-focused exercises that can be done with free weights, this is a great way for older exercisers to work on their leg muscles without putting any undue stress on their knees and hips.
Leg Extension Machine
The leg extension machine is designed to specifically target the quadriceps (quads), which are the muscles at the front of the thighs. Strong quads are essential for activities like walking, climbing stairs, and even something as simple as getting up from a chair. As a result, this piece of kit can be really beneficial for seniors' overall mobility and independence. It’s also another seated exercise that involves lifting a weighted pad upwards with your legs, making it both supportive and accessible.
The leg press is a great piece of kit for anyone looking to strengthen their legs, but is particularly helpful for seniors or anyone who struggles with balance or stability. This exercise replicates the squat but from a seated position, providing greater stability and place less stress on the body. Leg presses work the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, making it a great all rounder for lower body strength.
Bicep Curl Machine
Designed to target the muscles in the front of the upper arms (aka your biceps), the bicep curl machine provides a controlled path of movement that helps users to work on their arm strength without putting excessive strain on the joints or risking poor form. Keeping the arms and upper body strong can help older people maintain the ability to lift and carry objects, and keeping these muscles strong will help with every day activities.
For more inspiration, you can find a selection of exercises for seniors here or if you’d rather stay seated, we’ve covered chair exercises in this guide. Alternatively, you can find more exercise advice for seniors here.
Getting started on fitness in your older years can sometimes feel intimidating, but there’s plenty of help available for you if you’re a PureGym member. One of our expert personal trainers will be able to show you a range of workouts and exercises to best suit your body and your goals.