The elliptical trainer is a joint-friendly choice for cardiovascular exercise.
Regular cardiovascular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for older adults, and the elliptical trainer provides an ideal joint-friendly low-impact option for aerobic activity. Finding the appropriate exercise intensity for your goals and current fitness level will help you get the most from your elliptical workout. Your exercise heart rate is a common indicator of how hard you are working, but it is not the only way to monitor your intensity.
Working With the Beat
Your pulse is a good indicator of exercise intensity when using an elliptical machine because your heart rate is highly responsive to the demands for oxygen in your muscles when you exercise. As your exercise intensity increases, your heart keeps pace by beating faster and harder to pump oxygenated blood to your muscle cells for energy production. If you are relatively fit and healthy, the American College of Sports Medicine, or ACSM, recommends you exercise at a range of 65 to 90 percent of your maximal heart rate to improve cardiovascular fitness. If you are frail or a beginning exerciser, start with a lower intensity of 55 to 65 percent. To determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Thus, if you are 80 years old, 220 - 80 = 140. Multiply 140 by 0.65 and again by 0.90 to get an exercise pulse range of 91 to 126 beats per minute.
A Matter of Perception
If you are taking medications for high blood pressure or other cardiac issues, your medication may be designed to limit your heart rate response to physical activity. According to the American Academy of Health and Fitness, beta blockers are commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals that lower your heart rate, making pulse an ineffective measurement of exercise intensity. An alternative to taking your pulse when on the elliptical trainer is to use a rating of perceived exertion, or RPE, scale. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a scale of zero to 10, where zero represents sitting still, and 10 represents working as hard as you can. A rating of five to six equals moderate-intensity exercise, which would put you at the lower end of your target range. A rating of seven to eight indicates vigorous intensity, at the higher end of your range.
Making the Most of It
To improve your cardiovascular health, the CDC recommends exercising for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. You do not have to complete the full 30 minutes in a single session. Performing three 10-minute sessions per day on the elliptical trainer can provide many of the same benefits as a longer session. However, the ACSM encourages you to gradually work up to longer sessions lasting 20 to 60 minutes at a more vigorous intensity, at least three to five days per week.
Cardio Isn't Enough
The ACSM notes that regular participation in aerobic exercise will improve multiple facets of health, and will likely lead to a longer life span. To enjoy a high level quality of life, the ACSM recommends older adults participate in resistance training at least two times per week to offset sarcopenia, the age-related loss of skeletal muscle. Resistance training will also increase bone mineral density, improve posture, reduce your risk of falling, and increase your joint range of motion. A cool-down period that includes regular stretching is encouraged to promote flexibility and good joint health.