Did you know that if you’re of senior age you should not hold onto a treadmill during your walks?

I once told a senior woman that she should walk without holding onto the treadmill. She asked if I was a cardiologist.

Heart health is not related to proper walking form. A fitness professional is not trained to interpret an EKG or figure out what they’re hearing through a stethoscope, but one thing they know very well is how to walk properly.

Cardiologists aren’t trained in proper treadmill use, and I explained to the senior that walking without holding on would promote better breathing and better spinal alignment.

I pointed to the other seniors on other treadmills and said, “Describe their posture.”

“The main issue with an older person holding on is going to be balance,” begins Dr. Charles J. Pelitera, assistant professor of kinesiology and also coordinator of the Health/Wellness Program at Canisius College, NY.

“An exercise program for an elderly patient should be designed with two thoughts in mind,” continues Dr. Pelitera.

“The program should be designed to prolong their quality of life and to further enhance their quality of life.

“It is preferred that elderly people walk hands-free to not only benefit their cardiovascular fitness but also to continue to stimulate neurotransmitters involved with balance and proprioception.

It’s unlikely his goal is weight loss. Even if it’s just to get the heart rate elevated, his holding on is skewering his posture and teaching his body to rely on external support for balance while walking. This will NOT come in handy as he gets older.

“There have also historically been some problems with some senior citizens holding on and it affecting circulation to the hands.

“This could possibly lead to numbness in the hands and in a worst case scenario the possibility of some type of peripheral neuropathy.”

Look at the senior age people in the photos above, which I discreetly took; the men were not posing. Notice their poor posture and walking gait.

The forward lean is very prevalent wherever treadmills are, especially among senior walkers.

Look at the pictures again. You can’t really believe this is the correct way to walk — even for a senior.

When that senior steps off the treadmill…what will support them then? Their hips, low back structures, knees, etc., will be faced with doing all the work of walking, balancing, keeping upright.

This is an UPGRADE from what they just came from: holding onto the treadmill. That’s because holding on is a DOWNGRADE.

The last person who should do downgrade-type walking is the older person.

Holding onto a treadmill will promote less efficient walking, because it does not mimic real movement in space.

It will not improve the golf game, bowling game, walking at shopping centers, walking around in the garden, walking the dog, walking anywhere.

Straightening out the posture will not correct this blunder, because no matter where you hold on (front bar, rails, console) and how straight you position your body — it’s still a downgrade.

Older people should hold on only for occasional balance checks, but then do the majority of their walking in the most natural way: without holding on.

Seniors should set the speed slow and take their hands off the treadmill.

Machines go as slow as 0.5 mph, so it’s not logical to fear falling off — assuming that the individual gets around in everyday life without assistance — which is the demographic that this article is directed to.

Start with a slow speed, and increase it little by little. Before you know it, you’ll be smokin’.

Dr. Pelitera is the owner of Pelitera Fitness Consultants, which specializes in athletic training, weight loss and strength training.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.