For many, age is just a number, but it’s the body that can end up slowing you down rather than the brain or the way you feel on the inside.
BestReviews’ fitness expert Judd NeSmith, NASM-CPT, PES, is a skilled personal trainer and the founder of Serious Fitness. In 2020, he created an online program containing strength and conditioning workouts for people ages 50-plus.
NeSmith is here to give the lowdown on exercises that can reduce pain caused by aging.
Exercises for neck and shoulder pain
Scapular wall slides
“The neck and shoulders of the cervical spine area is a really common area where people experience a lot of pain as they get older,” says NeSmith. He recommends scapular wall slides to help people with neck and shoulder pain. It’s a simple exercise you can do anywhere with access to a wall.
- Start by standing with your back against a wall and your knees slightly bent.
- Put your arms against the wall and imagine you’re making a W with your elbows close to your waist.
- Slide your arms against the wall above your head to make a Y.
- Repeat 10 times.
“This strengthens a very notoriously weak muscle called the lower trapezius muscle. It also stretches the front part of your shoulders and area called your pectoralis minor,” NeSmith explains.
NeSmith recommends chin tucks for anyone who suffers from neck or shoulder pain. He says, “I do these daily. I do them in the shower — I do them while I shave — I do them in the gym because I’m that guy who had a lot of neck and shoulder problems from playing football.”
- Sit in a chair or stand with your arms hanging by your side.
- Turn your palms forward to open up your shoulders. Bring your shoulders down and try to push your chin back as far as possible. Imagine you’re trying to press the back of your head into an invisible wall behind you. The name “chin tuck” can be misleading because you’re not tucking your chin down into your chest.
- Now bring your chin forward and repeat 10 times.
Exercises for lower back pain
Pain in the lower back is a common complaint as people age. NeSmith recommends an exercise called dead bugs. He says it can “reeducate somebody on how to properly recruit their core muscles to stabilize their spine. It also will correct what is called an anterior pelvic tilt, because a lot of us sit for a living and we get notoriously tight in our hip flexors.”
- Lay on your back with your knees bent over your hips and feet off the ground. Hold your arms straight up, pointing toward the ceiling.
- Draw your belly button in so your lower back touches the floor.
- Hold this posture in your back while simultaneously straightening and lowering your right leg toward the ground and lowering your left arm straight behind your head.
- Alternate with the left leg straight toward the ground and the right arm straight behind you.
- Do that for eight reps on each side for a total of three sets.
Side-lying thoracic spine rotation
Side-lying thoracic spine rotation is an exercise that strengthens the middle back, which in turn can address lower back pain. The exercise strengthens the area of the back called the thoracic spine. NeSmith explains, “It’s the only area of our spine that needs a lot of mobility. Your lower back does not need much mobility at all. So when someone gets tight in their middle back, the body then seeks mobility from the lower back.” This can cause lower back pain.
- Lie on your left side with your head on a yoga block or pillow to keep your neck aligned with your spine. Bend your knees so that the tops of your thighs are at a 90-degree angle to your torso.
- Straighten your arms in front of you, then take your right arm and move it over your body, above your head and behind your back, reaching it as far toward your back pocket as you can, keeping your arm straight the whole time. Reverse the exercise to bring your arm back around to the front.
- Now switch to lying on your right side and repeat the exercise.
Exercise for knee pain
According to NeSmith, “The good old-fashioned pigeon pose would be a great stretch to help someone restore flexibility.” This is a yoga pose, but you don’t need any yoga experience to pull it off.
- Kneel on a yoga mat and extend one leg behind you. Press the top of the foot into the mat, with the sole of the foot facing the ceiling.
- Bring your other leg in front of you with your knee bent inward and in line with your hip. Place your palms or fingertips on the mat on each side of you for support.
- Lean your body forward so your torso is over your front leg and your arms come to rest on the mat. Relax in this position for as long as you like.
- Sit up before repeating the exercise with your legs in opposite positions, so what was your front leg is now your back leg and what was your back leg is now your front leg.
Other ways to reduce pain caused by aging
In addition to exercises, NeSmith suggests using a massage gun on low intensity on muscles that are tight or stiff, particularly the quadratus lumborum muscles in the back and the levator scapula muscles on the tops of your shoulders and sides of your neck.
He also says using a foam roller or yoga wheel on the quadriceps at the front of your thigh can open up the hip flexors and reduce lower back pain.
Fitness equipment that can help reduce pain from aging
The three wheels in this set measure 6, 10 and 13 inches in diameter. The exterior is non-slip so you can focus on your posture and technique, not on trying to stay still. They support up to 500 pounds.
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It’s nice to have a yoga mat for any exercises you do on the floor. This one is thick for increased stability and comes with a knee pad.
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If you want to try a massage gun for dealing with aches and pains, this is a popular and highly affordable model.
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This smooth foam roller can help loosen tight muscles without feeling too intense, which can be the case with textured foam rollers, especially when using one for the first time.
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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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