Choosing Age-Appropriate Exercise Equipment

by Colin Milner on Mar 01, 2003

Aging is something that happens to all of us, whether we want it to or not. It brings with it life’s experiences and challenges. One such challenge, a decline in functional abilities, is due in large part to a decreased fitness level. Thanks to a mound of scientific evidence that would make believers of even the most skeptical among us, we now know that most of this decline can be prevented, reversed or delayed through exercise.

Equipment selection can have a significant impact on the success of older-adult exercise programs. These guidelines provide you with a quick checklist of things to look for when choosing the most appropriate strength training and cardiovascular equipment for older adults.

Age-Friendly Checklist



  • user-friendly (nonintimidating) appearance and function
  • lowest possible load or impact (momentum factor)
  • nonobstructed entry and exit, suitable for individuals with a variety of functional abilities and disabilities
  • clear instructions where to sit and where to place hands and feet
  • adjustments that allow individuals of various body sizes and functional limitations to be in the proper positions while exercising (so joints are not compromised)
  • hand, seat and pad positions and adjustments that are clear and simple to locate and operate
  • ability to change resistance from a seated position
  • ideally, resistance that increases in increments of 1 pound or less
  • instructional placards with simple diagrams, easy-to-read text and print, and correct-usage information
  • low starting resistance (under 5 pounds)
  • range-of-motion adjustments to accommodate joint dysfunction
  • pins with large knobs, suitable for those with gripping issues (e.g. arthritis, stroke, etc.)
  • as few moving parts as possible, for safety and ease of use
  • space-efficient design, “small footprint” (takes up less space, offering more area around the equipment for entry and exit, especially with a walker or wheelchair)
  • solid warranty; low maintenance required
  • a quality product in all respects (manufacturer, workmanship, service and training)



  • commercial grade (Home-use grade equipment has smaller decks and lower-quality components.)
  • display panel with large buttons and letters, making it easier to read and use
  • simple adjustment features that are easy to understand: up/down, elevation and speed
  • starting speed at 0.5 miles per hour
  • shock-absorbing deck
  • emergency lanyard with belt clip (must shut off automatically if someone falls)
  • low deck threshold
  • low motor housing/casing to help maintain full view of a client, especially one with disabilities or balance issues
  • medical handrails for those with balance issues



  • commercial grade (Home-use models have lower-quality components and smaller seats.)
  • open or low shroud entrance and exit
  • control panel that is simple to set, read and use; large buttons and type
  • a keypad within reach
  • minimal preprogrammed workouts
  • clear, accessible adjustment features for seats and arm rests—the higher off the floor, the better
  • wide and comfortable seats with arm rests
  • swivel seats for easy entrance and exit

As the population ages, it becomes more important to anticipate and meet its equipment needs. Exercise continues to be a proven method to increase functionality and general health among older adults, regardless of their activity levels. Identifying and selecting appropriate equipment will help ensure that you provide a safe and successful program. u


International Council on Active Aging. Choosing age-friendly equipment.; retrieved December 14, 2002.

IDEA Health Fitness Source , Volume 2004, Issue 3

© 2003 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Colin Milner IDEA Author/Presenter

Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. He also serves as an adviser to the U.S. Administration on Aging, the National Institute on Aging and the National...


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