Metro DetroitJanuary 15, 2014
Slow down and get fit
Low-impact workouts take the heavy lifting out of getting healthy
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
Juanita Lim, front, joins Kathy Gellert, Klaus Gellert and Alice Lezotte in practicing tai chi at the Birmingham Area Senior Coordinating Council and Center. The Chinese art form, comprising fluid movements, was originally designed as a self-defense technique.
When it comes to any journey, the hardest step is often the first.
That’s especially true when it comes to taking the first step toward a healthier, fitness-focused lifestyle. For those who prefer the couch to the treadmill and the remote to a barbell, getting started on an exercise plan can be difficult mentally and physically.
Low-impact exercises might be just the thing for those folks having a hard time getting moving, whether it’s because of a lack of motivation or because of a lingering injury or even advanced age.
According to fitness instructor Lori Harbour, tai chi, water aerobics and other gentle movements can give you many of the same benefits as tougher workouts, without putting the same stress on sensitive joints, bones and muscles.
“A sitting lifestyle can really contribute to an unhealthy situation. It can really be very damaging to joints, muscle strength and flexibility,” said Harbour. “That’s where low impact is a good place to start. Muscle strength and flexibility are equally as important as cardiovascular health.”
Harbour leads low-impact fitness classes at the Birmingham Area Senior Coordinating Council and Center, the Beverly Hills Club, the Birmingham YMCA and the Bloomfield Township Senior Center. Among her many specialties are stability ball classes, which she said can gently tone muscles, and improve strength and balance. But there are plenty of options out there, she added.
“Water is also a great tool to gain strength and flexibility without hardly any disruption to your joints. That’s because when people are in the water, they’re about half their body weight,” she said. “A 300- pound person could run in the water because they only weigh about 150 pounds. The stress on knees and the back are minimized.”
Yoga is another exercise that can be as gentle — or as intense — as the practitioner chooses, according to private yoga instructor Kindra Reck. No matter how far you push yourself, she said, you’ll be able to reap some healthful benefits.
“With yoga, you can have really good increase to cardiovascular health, and muscle strength and flexibility; but at the same time, you also go really easy on your joints and don’t really put too much stress on your body,” said Reck.
That’s because, she said, yoga is all about controlled movements, and bringing your mind together with your body and your breathing. The combination makes people more aware of their bodies and when enough is enough.
“There’s all different kinds of yoga, depending on what you’re going for. There’s Vinyasa yoga, which is low-impact but can still make you sweat and get your heart rate up. Yin yoga focuses on ligaments and is a bit slower,” she explained. “Then, there’s the chair yoga, where you basically practice yoga while sitting in a chair. It’s very low-impact and good for the elderly or those recovering from an injury.”
Reck noted that low-impact workouts don’t necessarily mean easy. In fact, the rather fit Reck uses yoga as her main form of exercise to achieve overall wellness.
“There are all different kinds of yoga to do. There are fusion classes that fuse running and yoga, where you run a course on a track and follow it with different yoga poses that stretch the muscles you just worked. It’s a nice complement — the higher impact paired with the lower impact.”
Harbour agreed, saying that even for experienced exercisers, low-impact routines are a great way to fill in the gaps between high-intensity workouts.
“Maybe someone is a golfer, where they’re participating in an over-usage type of sport. Or maybe they’re a runner three days a week, or doing a boot camp or cross fit. Sometimes, these low-impact activities are a supplement to something they’re already doing and can provide a balance to their body and give them something else.”