Are Treadmills Safe for Elderly?

Treadmills are safe for the elderly if used correctly. In fact, if you are looking for the actual products, we have reviewed the best treadmills for elderly.

However, the if is a big IF. We need to be aware of the proper ways of using a treadmill, especially for the elderly. We also need to take the necessary precautions and safety measures when using the treadmill or any piece of exercise equipment. So let us answer the question, are treadmills safe for elderly?

Are treadmills safe for the elderly - yes if used properly

Like with any piece of exercise equipment for senior before deciding to buy or to use a treadmill, please consult your health care practitioner. Everything mentioned below is general advice and every person’s situation is unique. Please do not take this for medical advice. Please consult your doctor who can advise you on your individual condition.

Exercise and the Elderly

Aging deeply impacts the quality of life. As we age, our body organs are not able to perform at the same level as our youth. This leads to an increase in conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular conditions, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and arthritis etc as we enter the golden years of life.

Regular physical exercise and maintaining a fitness regime can help anyone, including the elderly feel better and live longer. Physical activity can immensely improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of being disabled. Studies have found out that exercise can develop cognitive functions and psychological adjustments1. This improves mental aspects of life, imparts confidence and improves overall levels of wellness and happiness among seniors.

Here we have a video that shows how to use a treadmill.

How to Use a Treadmill for Beginners

Walking as an Exercise for Elderly People

Walking can be used as one of the interventions for physical exercise by the elderly. It improves postural stability, and gait performance strengthens muscles and bones, regulates cardiopulmonary functions, and causes less hormonal stress on elderly women. Walking is easy on joints and bones.

So it is a good idea to take up walking as we progress in life. If you are into running or jogging, you may consider switching to walking as you age.

It is best to be walking outdoors. Especially, if you live close to nature or have access to parks, go out and get a breath of fresh air. However, be very careful when walking over uneven surfaces.

It is easy to fall or twist an ankle when you are on rough terrain. If you can not access a paved or smooth surface outside your house, you may want to start walking on a treadmill indoors. A treadmill can also be useful if you can not go outside due to inclement weather or pollution.

Walking and jogging are great exercises for the elderly

 

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So, Are Treadmills Safe for Elderly People?

Walking on a treadmill is safe for the elderly when all the safety measures of using a treadmill are followed. A treadmill can be the right equipment to improve postural stability and thereby reducing risk and complications of falling.

One of the most serious and common problems of aging is being prone to common falls. Falls mostly occur due to improper postural balance or inability to maintain their balance. Studies have found that approximately one-third of people over 67 suffer from falls3 at least once in a year and half of these people frequently fall. Stationary walking through a treadmill can be a suitable exercise to avoid such risks.

In addition, a combination of forward and backward walking on the treadmill is more effective in improving gait performance in the elderly. It activates the central gait pattern generator and enhances motor learning. Walking on a treadmill also builds up muscle strength and bone density thereby avoiding the risk of sarcopenia (muscle wasting) and osteoporosis (weak bone density).

The use of a treadmill is recommended for the rehabilitation of people with stroke. It helps in healthy aging and reduces the risk of other conditions like diabetes, hypertension etc. Some neurological drugs are also recommended for such situations but the most effective medicine would be exercise daily for 20 to 30 minutes.

Trained stationary walking on a treadmill impacts postural mechanism and other motor skills. It can therefore be recommended as an important part of an exercise regime for the elderly.

Benefits of Using a Treadmill for the Elderly

Walking on a treadmill is mechanically similar to walking on the ground but the treadmill has few benefits. A treadmill can be used at home or another convenient place. Walking on a treadmill is easy and effective. It is not as complex as any other cardiovascular exercise.

Also, during winters and in colder parts of the world, the elderly face problems of stiff joints and arthritis, especially when outside. These problems can be avoided by using treadmills in indoor spaces.

A treadmill provides a smooth surface to walk on. The handrails provide additional security and stability. You can easily monitor and track your exercise regime (speed, distance, heart rate etc) with a treadmill. It has controlled speed and inclination. Some advanced treadmills can sync your exercise data with your phone to help you track performance over time.

Finally, if needed, you can have someone supervise your exercise regime as an extra safety step.

 

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Safety Precautions for Use of Treadmills

There are certain safety measures and protocols to be followed for an elderly person. These are especially relevant for the elderly if they have any underlining conditions as mentioned below.

Cardiovascular Diseases

A regular, leisurely walk is highly recommended if an elderly person has a cardiovascular condition or has undergone a cardiovascular surgery or procedure. It is a good practice to start out at a leisurely pace. If you can not make it to the outdoors or prefer the comfort and privacy of your own house or living space, you can use a treadmill.

Before starting, it is important to do the 6 minutes’ walk test (under medical supervision) to check if the elderly person is eligible to use the treadmill. The use of a treadmill is only recommended under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Prior to the use of a treadmill, it is important to check the vitals which are blood pressure and heart rate.

All treadmills should be equipped with sensors checking the heart rate. In addition, the treadmill has to be equipped with a safety switch or immediate stop button for emergency cases. Also, running is not advisable to the elderly suffering from cardiovascular disorders. Only a slow walk on a flat surface for not more than 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the condition and stamina of the individual) is advisable.

As mentioned above, your situation may be unique. You should definitely consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regime.

Knee Injuries or Arthritis

Stiffness of knees, arthritis, osteoporosis, and other knee and joint conditions are common among elderly. Regular walking is advisable in such cases. Please make sure that the pace and intensity of the walk is comfortable. Ideally, try to walk on smooth and soft surfaces. A level grassy park is a good place to walk but do be mindful of bumps which are a common cause of twisted and broken ankles.

If access to a level grassy patch is not there, you can use a treadmill instead. The use of treadmills is advisable with the use of knee cap brace and proper orthopedic shoes. Inappropriate footwear can augment knee injury and lead to further complications. A recommendation from an orthopedic surgeon in regards to the footwear is strongly advised. Also, elderly with knee injuries are advised to keep the treadmill at zero inclination and speed of not more than 4 to 4.5 miles per hour.

 

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Back Injuries

Elderly suffering from back injuries or posture instability or inadequate gait control can use treadmills. They may want to use an additional accessory for lumbar support for correct posture.

Other Injuries

There is no restriction for seniors to use treadmills provided all safety precautions are taken. Before starting to walk, it is important to warm up by doing full-body stretching including quadriceps, hamstring stretches and isometric exercises for the knees.  When using a treadmill, it is important to use the correct footwear. For most people, good running shoes are perfect to use on a treadmill. Some people might do better with compression shoes customized in soles.

It is important to be aware all safety features of a treadmill. Please take time to read the owner’s manual of a treadmill to know how and when to use these safety features. Some of the safety features in a treadmill are:

  • Side handles: Treadmill must be equipped with handles or hand rails for the user to take support while using the equipment.
  • Safety switch: A safety clip should be pinned to the elderly using the treadmill to immediately stop the treadmill in case of fall. Also, an emergency button should be placed on the treadmill for easy access. It is a good practice to see how the switch works at very slow speeds to know what to expect when using it in case of an emergency.
  • Heart rate monitoring: It is a good idea to monitor the user’s heart rate while using a treadmill. Most modern treadmills come equipped with heart rate sensors to keep the patients’ vitals in constant check.
  • Well maintained machine: Please make sure that the treadmill is well maintained with controlled speed and inclination. The belt motion should be smooth and there should be no jerks while using it at any speeds.

Exercises to Be Avoided by Seniors

Properly using treadmills at slow and moderate speeds is safe for most elderly people. At the same time seniors should avoid rigorous running, brisk walking, jumping, high-intensity workouts and high-intensity weight training. Also, please avoid using a staircase with steep steps. It may lead to a sudden shooting up of the heart rate and blood pressure and may cause knee injuries. Moderate stair climbing with low step height is recommended.

The speed of walking rapidly decreases with an increase in age. Seniors above 70 years with no comorbidities are recommended to walk on a well-equipped treadmill at a slow speed of maximum 3 miles per hour with no inclination and jerky movements. Seniors with any comorbidities are highly recommended to get advice from their doctors before commencing any exercises.

All seniors should consult their doctors about the maximum intensity permitted for them to walk and maximum heart rate before and after the use of a treadmill.

 

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Alternative Exercises and Equipment

Apart from treadmills which are a great way of physical exercises, there are other pieces of equipment that the elderly can use to get a good work out. As with the treadmills, the use of any exercise equipment depends on an individual’s status of health. Please discuss with your doctor before starting any exercise regime.

Yoga Mat

Yoga, Pilates, and meditation can be practiced over the yoga mat. They are all highly advisable exercises for the elderly helping them keep calm body and mind and indulge themselves in a stress-free environment. Some elderly also benefit from breathing exercises like the Pranayama.

We have also reviewed the best Yoga mats with alignment lines if you are interested in reading more about them.

Exercise Ball

An exercise ball is another suitable equipment for improving core balance and stability. It is useful for doing stretches, crunches, and Pilates.

If you want more details, you can read our review of the best exercise balls to sit on.

Stretch Cords or Resistance Bands

It is highly recommended to start off with a full-body stretch before starting any physical exercise. The stretch cords or resistance bands are great for the elderly to induce light pressure while stretching. People who have severe joint pains or osteoporosis especially need to check with their doctor regarding how much stretching they can do.

 

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Cycling Machine or Stationary Bike

A stationary cycling machine is an alternative to be used in place of a treadmill. Cycling is a good full-body exercise intensifying muscle power of the body and keeping the elderly healthy. Patients suffering from severe knee pain should use a cycling machine only under doctors’ advice.

Elliptical Machine or Cross Trainer

Also called a cross trainer, the elliptical machine gives a good upper and lower body work out to the user. The elliptical is a great machine to use for the elderly as it provides a low impact work out which is easy on the knees and joints.

Are Treadmills Safe for the Elderly – A Final Word

We hope that with this article we have been able to answer your question – Are treadmills safe for elderly? When properly used, treadmills provide many health benefits. It is important to use a treadmill with all safety measures in place and under your doctors’ recommendations and professional supervision. Treadmills provide a great alternative to the elderly who are not able to go for a walk outdoors.

For further information on improving the lifestyle of the elderly, you can read our article on how to make the elderly independent.

References:

  1. Dehi, M., et.al, 2014
  2. Dr. Namrata Anarthe (2020), BPT. India
  3. Soraya Pirouzi, Ali Reza Motealleh, Fatemeh Fallahzadeh, Mohammad Amin Fallahzadeh