6 Low-Impact Exercises as You Age

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 23, 2021
4 min read

As you age, it's a good idea to downshift from high-impact exercises. All that pounding needs to give way to something that's more in line with what your body needs now.

Add these six low-impact moves to your exercise routine. They come from Jacque Ratliff, exercise physiologist and education specialist with the American Council on Exercise.

How to Do It: Get on your hands and knees. Place your hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Put a towel under your knees if you want a little extra padding. Your back should be straight, like a table top. Round your back while tucking your tail under, and hold for 10 seconds. Then open your chest and slightly arch your back. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat the stretch in both directions for 30 to 60 seconds.

Why It’s Good for You: It improves mobility in your spine and stability, Ratliff says. Because you are on all fours, it also engages muscles in your arms and legs. If you can't get on your hands and knees, you can do the move while seated in a chair. It’s also a good warm-up exercise before a walk or other cardio activity.

How to Do It: Stand next to a wall or something else sturdy that you can use for support. With your legs hip-distance apart, slowly lift one foot off the ground while keeping your standing leg slightly bent. Engage your abdominals to help with balance. Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

Eventually, work your way up to doing this exercise without holding on to anything and standing with your legs together. You can also change up the move to make it more challenging. Lift the elevated leg out to the side or straight up with a bended knee. For an even more advanced move, once your leg is lifted, try closing your eyes.

Why It’s Good for You: It helps your balance.

How to Do It: Make a ladder design on the floor using chalk or tape. Walk through the "steps" of the ladder. Put one foot in a square, and then bring the other leg into the same square. Keep going until you reach the end of the ladder.

Why It’s Good for You: It builds your balance and agility.

How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold your arms straight out in front, palms down. Squat down as if you’re going to sit on a chair. Keep your chest wide, and don’t let your knees bend past your toes. If you need to, place a chair behind you, but don’t actually sit on it.

As you go down into the squat, reach your left hand toward the right and rotate your body slightly to the right. Bring your arms back to center as you come up to stand. Reach in the other direction with the next squat. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Add hand weights if you want more of a challenge.

Why It’s Good for You: Squats are great at any age because they use your major leg muscles, Ratliff says. Adding a slight twist makes the traditional squat a bit more difficult and boosts stability.

How to Do It: You can do this exercise with any stairs, whether in your home or at a gym.

Step on the first stair with your right leg. Lift your left leg off the floor, but don’t place it on the next step. Hold the position for one count with just your right leg on the stair. Then step down with your left leg followed by the right. Repeat on the other side. Do 10 to 15 on each leg

If you need support, hold on to a wall or railing. Work up to doing the move without holding on to anything. For more of a challenge, hold the one-footed position longer.

Why It’s Good for You: You’re increasing stability and working your leg muscles.

How to Do It: Sit in a chair. Place one foot flat on the ground with the knee at a 90-degree angle. Extend your other leg straight out with the foot flexed. Reach forward toward the flexed foot to stretch your hamstring. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, and then repeat with the other leg.

Why It’s Good for You: Keeping your hamstring flexible is important because the muscle connects down to the knee and up to the hip joint, Ratliff says. Tight hamstrings can sometimes cause lower back pain, too.