Best Activities for Spinal Health as You Age

Dr. Constantine Toumbis

10 December 2020

With back pain being the second most common reason for doctor’s office visits, it may seem like it is an inevitable part of aging. However, some of the causes of back pain can be carrying extra weight, poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, or even stress. This means that it may be possible to prevent back pain at home. One of the best methods of back pain prevention as you age is maintaining a consistent routine of physical activity. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours at the gym — there are plenty of low-impact, enjoyable activities that provide benefits to the health of your spine as you age. These activities might help you avoid spine surgery, or the need to see a spine doctor at all. 

How Much Physical Activity Do Older Adults Need?

In terms of spine health, regular physical activity can help strengthen the muscles that support your spine — like your core, back and legs. Exercise can also help keep those supporting muscles limber for greater mobility and balance, aid in stress management, and help you achieve or maintain a healthy body weight that relieves your spine of pressure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is recommended for seniors to engage in 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week — which equates to 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week. If you have a health condition, it is recommended to consult your primary care physician for a recommendation tailored to you.

The Best Types of Exercises for Seniors

Some of the most common reasons that adults put off exercise are that they do not feel motivated, have a lack of energy or time, or simply don’t enjoy exercise. To overcome these challenges, choosing physical activities that you actually enjoy is essential. Having an activity you look forward to will help you feel more motivated, and you are more likely to make space in your schedule to accommodate for something you enjoy. Below are some of the best types of exercises for seniors that aid in spine health — and to many, are more enjoyable than logging miles on a treadmill.

Water Aerobics/Swimming

Participating in a water aerobics class at a gym or local community center is a good way to exercise without putting pressure on your joints. The buoyancy of the water relieves stress off of your spine and joints. The water will also provide natural resistance as you move in the water, which helps improve your strength, flexibility and balance. Attending a group workout with a friend is also a great way to stay accountable with your exercise routine. If water aerobics classes aren’t available near you, or you prefer solo exercise, then swimming is another great option.


The wonderful thing about hiking is that it’s a widely accessible physical activity. You don’t need a gym membership, and many parks offer free walking trails. This makes it easy to get up and enjoy the outdoor scenery, either by yourself or with a friend. Walking is a simple and underrated form of exercise that offers many benefits, like increased cardiovascular health, balance and mobility. Depending on the pace you set for yourself on your next hike and the type of terrain you cover, you can also strengthen your leg and core muscles. Walking on inclines or non-paved surfaces can help strengthen your muscles. 

Spending time outdoors is also beneficial to older adults — a scientific study found that being active outdoors was related to greater physical functioning, less fear of falling, and fewer depressive symptoms in older adults.


Golf is a great way for seniors to have fun while exercising at the same time, especially if you choose to walk the course instead of using a golf cart. Golfers who choose to walk an 18-hole course average 5 miles walked, and those who use a golf cart walk on average 2 miles per game. That’s anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 calories burned per game, depending on whether you use a cart or walk the entire course. Walking helps strengthen your muscles and improves heart health, and the social aspects of golf can help lower stress.

Yoga/Chair Yoga

Yoga is another low-impact exercise that helps strengthen your muscles and increase flexibility and balance. These are all important factors when it comes to improving and maintaining your spine health. An added bonus to yoga is that it’s been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and lower blood pressure. If you find that yoga classes are a bit too challenging, there are also chair yoga classes that are well-suited for beginners. Just as it sounds, you perform yoga stretches while sitting on a chair.


If you want to step up your cardio intensity, bicycling is a great way to do so. The resistance of the pedals can help you strengthen muscles and create a more intense workout while still remaining low-impact for your joints. Plus, you get to enjoy the sunshine outdoors, which can be great for managing stress. If you want to involve friends or family, this is a fun activity that most enjoy. Alternatively, if you don’t own a bike but have a gym membership, you can use a stationary bicycle or take a spin class on your next visit. 

Types of Exercises That Seniors Should Avoid

Exercise for seniors doesn’t need to look like exercise in a traditional gym setting — it can be movement as simple as walking or dancing to your favorite songs. If you enjoy the gym, using free weights and machines at the gym are another good option. However, there are some exercises that are best to avoid, especially if one of your main goals is maintaining spine health. This includes:

  • High-Impact Exercises: Exercises that put repeated, continuous stress on your joints is not recommended for improving or maintaining spine health. This includes activities like running or movements that involve frequent jumping.
  • High-Intensity Activities: Although cardio exercises are good for heart health, seniors may want to avoid cardio workouts that edge on being too intense. For example, high intensity interval training (HIIT) can be hard on the lungs. Additionally, seniors that may feel pushed to move quickly may lose proper form when performing exercises, which can lead to injury.
  • Strenuous Exercises With Heavy Weights: Exercises like deadlifts, barbell  squats, or leg presses with heavy weight can cause compressions on your spine if not performed correctly. If you are worried about your spine health, it is best to avoid exercises that put additional weight and pressure on your spine.

Contact Citrus Spine If You are Experiencing Back Pain

If back pain is concerning you or preventing you from engaging in physical activities, contact Citrus Spine to arrange an appointment. Our board-certified healthcare providers will seek to answer all of your questions and create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Dr. Constantine Toumbis

Dr. Toumbis is a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in cervical, thoracic and lumbar surgery. He received his undergraduate degree in Biology from New York University in 1987, then continued on to receive his Masters in Natural Sciences as well as a PhD in Experimental Pathology from State University of New York at Buffalo. He completed his medical degree at Wayne State University School of Medicine with a distinction in Biomedical Research. After moving to Florida to complete his internship and residency in orthopedics at the University of Florida Shands Hospital, he went on to pursue a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic's Florida Spine Institute. He moved to Citrus County and has been in private practice since 2005.

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