Using one of the best elliptical machines can provide the body with a wealth of benefits, which are especially prevalent to the over 50s. Elliptical machines and cross trainers are better than treadmills for this: as treadmills have your feet pounding the road simulated by a fan belt, the elliptical machine also mimics a walking motion.
However, your feet stay glued to a ‘pedal’, and move around in the shape of a flattened circle. It’s lower impact than even the best treadmill, making it ideal for anyone suffering from joint or muscular pain. Meanwhile, hands can hold onto handlebars, which not only offers support, but also means the upper body is also getting a workout too.
Tim Andrews, as Head of Fitness Product at Fitness First (opens in new tab), is a man who knows the benefits of ellipticals inside and out. Here, he shares seven reasons why elliptical machines are a great workout for the over 50s.
Elliptical machines are a full body workout
‘Lots of cardiovascular exercise can be very leg dominant,’ says Tim, who explains that thanks to the handles on elliptical machines, you’re using both your upper body and lower body simultaneously.
‘If your technique is on point, it really is a full body movement; chest, shoulders, back, biceps and triceps, glutes, quads and hamstrings, as well as the all-important core, are all worked.’
Plus, as it is a cardiovascular machine, your heart and lungs are also getting a workout.
It helps to build muscle
As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass. In fact, one study (opens in new tab) found that after the age of 30, we naturally lose 3-8% of our muscle mass every decade. After the age of 60, this decline increases even more.
Resistance is essential in building muscle and thanks to the ability to increase resistance on the elliptical machine, the preserving of muscle mass is achievable without lifting actual weights.
It’s a low impact exercise
‘Your back, hips, knees and ankles can take a bit of a bashing during high impact cardiovascular exercise like running and jumping,’ explains Tim. ‘An elliptical is low impact; your feet won’t lift off the pedals.’
There’s even research that backs this up. In 2014, one study (opens in new tab) concluded that exercise on an elliptical machine ‘significantly reduces weight-bearing as compared to other common functional and sporting activities.’
They said that this is useful to know for rehabilitation teams when recommending activity for previously injured individuals.
Elliptical machines give your joints some respite
Running can really wreak havoc on your knees over time. In the over 50s, osteoarthritis - a degenerative joint disease - becomes more common, so it’s important to protect joints and provide them with ‘kinder’ exercise.
Over 2000 runners were studied at a clinic (opens in new tab), and it was knee injuries that won the award for most common runner's injury.
Tim explains that although the elliptical doesn’t actually replace running, it can still be a real benefit for runner wanting to maintain their fitness, especially if your knees do need a break.
The UK’s NHS says that if you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, avoiding exercise that puts strain on your joints and forces them to bear an excessive load, such as running and weight training, is a good idea. If this is a concern for you, you should also check out our best supplements for joints, which can help to reduce inflammation.
It's an ideal exercise for injury recovery
Been unable to exercise thanks to an injury? The elliptical machine is ideal if you’re hoping to get back into movement, safely.
In fact, Tim reveals that Technogym - creators of a range of gym equipment -actually state: “Our line of cross trainers also caters to users with additional medical requirements and people who might be at greater risk of injury.”
Elliptical machines are good for weight loss
It’s a cardio activity that works the full body, so naturally, the elliptical machine will help burn serious calories. This can then help to put you in a calorie deficit which leads to weight loss.
Tim explains that not only does the elliptical machine work for steady state longer duration exercise but it can also be used for higher intensity interval workouts. As your feet are on the pedals, you can decide how quickly you go. You could even do intervals of fast and slow on a low resistance setting, and then mix up the resistance to incorporate slower, higher resistance intervals with quicker, lower resistance intervals.
Plus, Tim adds: ‘You won’t need to worry about straddling treadmills; you can shift intensity levels from maximal to minimal in the blink of an eye.’
Yup, no more waiting for the treadmill to reach the speed that you’ve selected on the screen; with the elliptical machine, it’s all down to you!
You are in control
‘Because you have so many options and variations on an elliptical you can challenge so many elements of fitness,’ says Tim.
‘If you don’t hold onto the handles you can target your core muscles and work on your balance and you can set your resistance to specifically target muscular endurance.’
In fact, even the direction you move the pedals can alter the muscles used. If you move the pedals forward, your hamstrings - the muscles at the back of your legs - will reap the rewards, however, if you move the pedals backwards, it is your quads- at the front of your thighs - that will feel the burn!
Why wait to get an elliptical machine?
The elliptical evidently is up there in the top cardiovascular workouts. Not only does this stationary machine provide the heart and lungs with a workout, but it also provides a low impact way to train muscles.
The over 50s can benefit greatly from using a machine that places less stress on the joints whilst also helping to maintain strength and fitness.
Lucy is a freelance journalist specializing in health, fitness and lifestyle. She was previously the Health and Fitness Editor across various women's magazines, including Woman&Home, Woman and Woman’s Own as well as Editor of Feel Good You. She has also previously written for titles including Now, Look, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Red and The Sun.
She lives and breathes all things fitness; working out every morning with a mix of running, weights, boxing and long walks. Lucy is a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios. Plus, she's pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to many classes of champagne and tequila on the rocks whilst out with her friends.
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