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Health & Exercise Forum

Exercises You Should Avoid if You’re Over 50! Part 2 of 2

May 30, 2016

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumPART 2 of 2: SAVE YOUR JOINTS! Exercises You Should Avoid if You’re Over 50!

Why Change is Necessary with Age

For many years, I have repeatedly preached about the value of engaging in an active lifestyle throughout life. It is especially important to be active as one gets older in order to maintain mobility and independence. However, many take this advice to an extreme and refuse to accept the inevitable changes that occur in the body with age. They run, jump, lift and throw like a teenager and often fail to modify their activity or exercise regimen appropriately for their age. Consequently, they suffer from multiple injuries, including muscle tears, tendonitis, bursitis, impingement and advanced osteoarthritis. Keep in mind, everyone ages differently. One person at 60 years of age may be the equivalent of another at 50. However, change with age is inevitable, so be kind to your body…it’s the only one you have! It is always prudent to consult your physician and physical therapist for a program designed specifically for your needs.

The anatomical and physiological changes in the body associated with age must be respected and considered when establishing an exercise program for those over 50. One common change that occurs with age is the loss of the density and quality of bone and cartilage. In addition to loss of bone density, especially in women, osteoarthritis destroys the cartilage in the joints and reduces the space between the bones in a joint. For example, a loss of space in the shoulder joint makes it more likely to impinge the structures that pass through the joint such as the bursa and rotator cuff tendons. Overtime, the impingement will lead to small tears, then bigger tears and possibly a full tear. This can be avoided by modifying the exercises and activities performed at the shoulder. The degenerative knee joint is another example of a how the degenerative and arthritic process creates a narrow space which leads to further damage if modifications in exercise and activities are not modified. When the knee degenerates, it often begins by a dehydration and degeneration of the cartilage at the end of the bones and between the joint of the knees. Certain activities and exercises will accelerate this process. Running and jumping are two of these activities but squatting, especially deep knee bends with heavy weight on the shoulders or in the hands, can be equally damaging. Muscles and tendons are at risk in the aging body as well. As these tissues degenerate and lose their elasticity, they are very susceptible to pulls and tears, especially when not properly warmed-up and stretched. The best examples of an aged and degenerative tendon leading to a more serious problem when not warmed up and stretched properly is an Achilles tendonitis (often caused by overuse or running hills) or Achilles tendon tear (often caused by a sudden burst and stretch such as reaching for a shot in tennis or racquetball).

Shoulder Dips                                   

The shoulder joint was not meant to bear weight through its full range of motion. Lowering the entire weight of the body on the shoulder places excessive compression through the joint, can lead to rotator cuff impingement and tears as well as tearing of the labrum. (Photo 6: Shoulder Dips through the full range of motion – Not Recommended). A plank is one alternative to this exercise. Also, this exercise works the triceps and latissumus dorsi (lat) muscles. A second and more practical alternative would be to exercise the muscles separately. For example, the triceps are best performed while lying on your back as described above. (See Photo 3 in Part 1) and the lats can be better worked with pulleys or bands performing a row or sawing motion. (PHOTO 7: Standing Lats with Exercise Bands - Recommended).

Deep Squats

WATCH THE KNEES! Squats work the quads and the gluts but a full squat can be very damaging to the knees. (Photo 8: Deep Squat through the full range of motion – Not Recommended). Instead, work the quads while on a knee extension machine and work the gluts while extending the hip in standing. A partial squat is acceptable, as you lower the body to 30 or 45 degrees. The squat can be advanced with 5-10 dumbells in your hands, not overhead. (PHOTO 9: Half Squat with Dumbells - Recommended).

Full Sit-Ups

Full sit-ups are bad for your back and exercise the muscles of the hip more than those of the abdomen. (Photo 10: Full Sit-up – Not Recommended).  A better sequence is to begin using the legs for resistance to the lower abs and advance to a partial sit up or curl. (PHOTO 11: Half Squat Sit-up or Curl - Recommended).

Gravity Assisted Inverted Traction

The blood vessels of the brain were not intended to work against gravity with the head upside down. As a result, blood and pressure build up in the cranium. Consequently, there are documented cases of people having a stroke during inverted traction due to a weakness in a blood vessel in the brain. There are safer and effective forms of traction/decompression according to the research such as hook lying with your legs on chair. (PHOTO 12: Hook Lying on Chair for Lumbar Decompression – Recommended) Another alternative is to have someone pull your legs while lying on your back with your knees bend and resting on a bolster or a few pillows. (PHOTO 13: Manual Traction for Lumbar Decompression – Recommended)

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.


NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.


This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.