The 11 best simple back exercises for elderly people

Elderly people often struggle with back issues however they also generally have less mobility than when they were younger. This can cause a bit of an issue because often the solution to the back pain is to be active and complete regular exercise - which is of course a barrier in itself if you are not as mobile and cannot complete certain exercises.

Because of this, I've come up with a list of exercises which even the most limited of people can perform. Sometimes the simple solution is best and that's the approach I've taken with these back exercises for elderly people. You'll be surprised the positive results that can be noticed just by adding them into your daily routine even 2-3 times per week.


Benefits of back exercises for elderly people

Naturally, when we age, we become a little less active and don't necessarily do things we might have done at a younger age. Simple things like lifting heavy objects. It's not always a bad sign, it's simple a case of "use it or lose it". We probably aren't going to be working on a building site, or redecorating the house when we are in our more senior years. Those kind of activities keep our muscles strong and active. So it's important to add some exercise into our week to maintain the levels of strength and musculature, specifically in our backs.

Weak back muscles are directly linked with poor posture and core muscles help to prevent pain as well as keeping us stable and maintaining levels of balance; so building core strength, upper body and lower back strength as well as general physical activity has a range of benefits for older people including improving their overall health.

Weakness and inactivity are two common causes of back pain in elderly people so back exercises specifically help to develop muscle strength and avoid low back pain, bad posture and other muscle strains. They are the best way to prevent joint pain and back problems. 

Generally speaking, exercise has a number of other benefits for elderly people:

  1. Improved Cardiovascular Health: Exercise helps maintain a healthy heart and can reduce the risk of heart disease.

  2. Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility: Regular physical activity can improve joint flexibility and overall mobility, making daily tasks easier.

  3. Strengthens Bones and Muscles: Weight-bearing exercises help maintain bone density and muscle mass, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and frailty.

  4. Balance and Coordination: Exercise, especially activities like tai chi, can improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls.

  5. Mood Enhancement: Physical activity releases endorphins, promoting a positive mood and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  6. Weight Management: Regular exercise contributes to weight control, reducing the risk of obesity-related health issues.

  7. Improved Sleep: Physical activity can help regulate sleep patterns and improve overall sleep quality.

  8. Enhanced Cognitive Function: Exercise has been linked to better cognitive function and a reduced risk of cognitive decline in older adults.

  9. Social Interaction: Group exercise classes or activities provide opportunities for socializing, reducing feelings of isolation.

  10. Better Immune Function: Regular physical activity can boost the immune system, helping the body defend against illnesses.

Remember, it's always advisable for elderly individuals to consult with healthcare professionals or a certified personal trainer before starting a new exercise program.


The best back exercises for elderly people

Here's a list of the best back strengthening exercises for better health (in my opinion of course):

  1. Standing Reverse Leg Lifts: This intermediate exercise works the glutes, lower back, and lower abdominal muscles.
  2. Superman: This is one of the best lower back strengthening exercises for seniors. It involves lying on your stomach and lifting your arms and legs off the ground. Although it is a low/no impact exercise, it still works the smaller muscle groups and numerous tine muscles around the spine which play an important role in maintaining spinal stability.
  3. Seated Torso Twist: This exercise targets the lower back and oblique muscles and helps to free off the vertebrae and connecting ligaments. t involves sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and twisting your torso to one side, then the other with your arms crossed across your chest.
  4. Bent Knee Raise: This exercise targets the lower back and hip muscles. It involves lying on your back with your knees bent and lifting your knees towards your chest.
  5. Cat and Camel: This exercise targets the lower back muscles. It involves getting on your hands and knees and alternately arching and rounding your back. This is one of the best lower back stretches as it encourages movement throughout the spine.
  6. Back Extension: This exercise targets the lower back muscles. It involves lying on your stomach and lifting your chest off the ground.
  7. Leg Extensions: This exercise targets the lower back and leg muscles. It involves lying on your stomach and lifting your legs off the ground.
  8. Bridges: This exercise targets the hip extensors, buttock muscles, and hamstrings. It also helps strengthen the low back and sacroiliac.
  9. Pelvic Tilt: This exercise stretches the lower back and hip muscles. It is a great treatment for back pain exercise for tired or sore backs after a long day of walking.
  10. Plank: This exercise strengthens the entire midsection, including the lower back. It involves holding a push-up position with your arms straight and your body in a straight line.
  11. Hip Bridge: This exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. It involves lying on your back with your knees bent and lifting your hips off the ground.


It is important to note that not all back strengthening exercises are appropriate for seniors. You should aim for 10 to 15 reps of each exercise but these may be tiring initially. If needed, you can start with fewer reps and increase with time as you build strength. If at any point they are painful to complete, stop the exercise immediately.

Back exercises should always incorporate a stabilising aspect to keep the lower back tight while the other muscles around it stretch. For example, a good lower back exercise might stretch the muscles at the back of the leg, but the lower back itself should remain stable and engaged. Back strengthening exercises should be performed at least 2-3 times a week to make a difference in an elderly person’s balance and mobility, but more often is better for optimal back health. The back should not be sore or painful following exercise sessions, however, so rest between exercise sessions if your back feels tired or sore afterwards.

There are other exercises that you can complete if you are slightly more mobile and have easy access to a gym or more advanced facilities, but the above exercises are a great start for anyone who wants to become more active and start strengthening their back at home, with limited experience or equipment necessary. Even if you do have access to a gym, you can always complete the exercises above at home more regularly before progressing onto more advanced exercises with weights and using resistance machines under the supervision of a fitness trainer.

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Arun Gray sports therapist strength and conditioning coach skegness

The author

Arun Gray is a sports therapist and strength & conditioning coach with over 15 years experience in the industry. He also has a personal history with chronic shoulder and back pain along with a range of other sporting injuries.

Arun writes about common injuries and aims to help people understand and manage their pain to prevent having to rely on national healthcare.

Read more about Arun