The Best Back Strengthening Exercises For Seniors


back-strengthening-exercises-seniors

Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 15-Jun-2022

  • Debilitating or chronic back pain is one of the most common health conditions affecting seniors and is often caused by both a natural loss of strength & energy and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle
  • The downward spiral of decreased strength leading to decreased activity, which leads to further decreased strength and, ultimately, imbalances, strains and chronic back pain is also not an uncommon condition affecting seniors
  • Sit-Backs, Glute Bridges, Bird Dogs and Hip Hinges are four low stress back strengthening exercises that can help seniors avoid the downward spiral and can help help keep back pain at bay and maintain a high quality of life

Chronic back pain, whether in the upper or lower back, is one of the most common conditions affecting seniors. This is often because a loss of strength, energy, and vigor is an inevitable part of the aging process and this decreased strength and energy results in difficulty with many everyday activities. When things like shoveling snow, carrying groceries, climbing stairs or even walking distances become difficult, a reduction in overall activity follows inevitably. Of course, reductions in strength are also often accompanied by a disruption in balance and proper movement patterns, which can lead to strains and imbalances. When taken together, it’s easy to see how this process can lead to a downward spiral as decreased strength leads to decreased activity which leads to further decreased strength. Ultimately, imbalances, strains and chronic back pain can result. 

However, while aging is inevitable, the process doesn’t necessarily have to result in immediately debilitating or chronic back pain. By making a conscious effort to maintain strength in the back and core muscles, debilitating and chronic back pain can be avoided or minimized. Here are a few of the best back strengthening exercises for seniors that you should consider to help keep back pain at bay and maintain a high quality of life.

Back Strengthening Exercises For Seniors

Introducing any major change into our daily lives can be very challenging, especially for seniors. But, as indicated above, adding back strengthening exercises can have immense benefits including increasing quality of life, reducing risk of injury, and providing significant back pain relief. So, while challenging, it’s certainly worth the effort.

1. Sit-Back Exercise To Strengthen The Back and Abdomen

Most seniors experience extreme difficulty while sitting down or standing up. Even getting out of bed can be severely challenging and can result in tremendous pain. For those struggling with these challenges, sit-backs are an effective way to strengthen the back and abdomen. Because they’re not not a high-intensity exercise, they’re great for seniors. Here’s how to perform Sit-Back exercise:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent, so that they reach the same level as your chest
  • Keep your arms crossed over your chest and your back straight
  • Put your chin on your chest so that it rests between both your palms
  • Slowly lean back as far as possible without falling backward and without putting too much stress on your back
  • Come back to your initial position and repeat the same steps at least ten more times

2. Glute Bridge Exercises for Strengthening & Structural Health

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle on your body and is the prime muscle used for jumping, climbing, and lifting heavy things off the floor. As we age, the size and strength of our glutes determine how well we’re able to walk, and how easily you can climb stairs or navigate obstacles. Activating your glutes with regular strengthening exercises can do wonders for supporting your back and improving structural health. Here’s how to perform the Glute Bridge exercise:

  • Lie straight on your back with your knees bent
  • Keep your gaze on to the ceiling and your feet flat on the floor
  • Ensure your arms are at equal angles slightly away from your torso 
  • Lift only your hips & glutes (butt) slightly off the floor while staying focused on the ceiling
  • Maintain a straight line from knees to chest and hold it there for at least 5 seconds
  • Then lower your hips and return to the initial position with your butt on the floor
  • Repeat the same steps at least ten or twelve more times

3. Bird Dog Exercises To Strengthen The back

The bird dog is one of the most commonly recommended back strengthening exercises for older adults. It strengthens the glutes, hips, abdominals, and deep core muscles that support the spine. It also encourages core strength, lumbar stability, and overall balance, which are essential for seniors. The movements are gentle enough so that even those with severe back pain can do them. Here’s how to perform the Bird Dog exercise:

  • Start out on all fours (quadruped position) with your hands and knees on the ground 
  • Make sure your palms face downwards and positioned directly under your shoulders, and your knees are aligned with your hips
  • Slowly lift and extend one leg out as straight as possible, and simultaneously lift and stretch out the opposite arm in front of you so that your palm is aligned with your shoulder
  • Lower both your arm and leg to the initial position and repeat the same step with the other leg and arm
  • Perform the bird dog exercises at least ten times on each side

4. Hip Hinges To Strengthen The Core Back Muscles

The hip hinge exercise is a great way to strengthen the posterior muscles which help to improve posture and can also reduce low back pain while bending. It can also improve the structural balance and provide better flexibility and strength to the hips. Here’s how to perform the Hip Hinge exercise:

  • Stand upright with both feet hip-width apart
  • Place both your hands firmly on your hips and slightly bend your knees
  • Shift your weight to your heels and hinge forward while pushing your hips back
  • Lower your torso to an angle of roughly 45 degrees – somewhere between vertical and parallel
  • Now reverse the movement and push your hips forward while slowly returning to the upright position
  • Continue for two sets of eight to five repetitions

Answers to Questions Related To Back Strengthening Exercises

Q1: What’s the best time of day for older people to exercise?

Answer: Simply put, the best time to exercise for seniors is when they feel their best. Certain conditions, like joint stiffness and lower body pain, are not uncommon for seniors and can affect exercise. This is especially true for those suffering from arthritis, degenerative joint disease, fibromyalgia, or gout. Since the joints are generally still when you sleep, it’s not surprising to feel increased stiffness and achiness upon waking. Therefore, it may be best to avoid lower body exercises immediately upon waking or after a long nap.

Q2: What sorts of exercises should seniors avoid? 

Answer: Exercises that involve heavy weights, lifting or stretches involving hyperextension of the back should be avoided. The best exercises for seniors for strengthening their back are those that include gentle exercises that activate the core and keep the small muscles of the back fully engaged. 

Q3: Do seniors have to exercise every day?

Answer: Any type of daily physical activity is better than none at all, especially for seniors. As they say, “motion is lotion”. Seniors should perform some form of physical exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. This could include any of the exercises mentioned above or any other moderate intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or even gardening. Activities that improve balance are also important as this is something that deteriorates quickly with aging. So, while it’s not necessary to “exercise” every day, being active every day is essential. 

Conclusion

It’s never too late to make changes. While an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is not uncommon as we age, spending excessive amounts of time sitting, reclining, or lying down can lead to an accelerated rate of strength and energy loss. This can lead to debilitating and chronic back pain. However, by adding back strengthening exercises and back pain treatment to your life, you can help to keep back pain at bay and help to maintain a high quality of life while aging. 

If you know someone struggling with back pain and are unsure about how to get started with back strengthening exercises, contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.


Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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