Treadmill Or Elliptical: Which Is Better For Adults Over 50

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By Natalie Martin

According to the American College of Sports Medicine cardio exercise is important for your health, and they recommend that adults get in around 150 minutes a week. For adults over 50 this is especially important, and two of the most popular exercise machines with seniors are the treadmill and elliptical. While both are capable of giving you a good cardio workout, there are a few factors adults over 50 will want to consider before they choose to work out on one of these exercise machines.



One of the most popular and familiar pieces of equipment at gyms and at home with seniors is the treadmill. It is a staple for walkers and runners when the weather keeps them indoors, and it is a great way to get a good cardio workout. Women over 50 who are worried about osteoporosis can reduce their risk for developing this disease since exercising on a treadmill can help build bone density.



While a treadmill can reduce the risk for osteoporosis, it might not be the best choice for anyone suffering from joint pain or arthritis. An elliptical can provide you with an effective low impact cardio workout, and it can also be used as a cross-trainer. This is good news for adults over 50 that still like to get out and “pound the pavement”, but might need to take it a little easier on their knees, hips and joints.

Ellipticals can also provide adults over 50 with a full body workout, which in turn can help them continue to lead active lives. The moveable handles will work the chest, back, arms and shoulder muscles, while the “floating” pedals ensure that your quadriceps, calves, glutes and hamstrings are strengthened and toned.

Treadmill Vs Elliptical


Benefits of Using an Elliptical

  • You are emulating running without the impact to your joints that occurs on a treadmill.
  • Thanks to the moveable handles you can get in a full body workout on an elliptical.
  • Models that allow you to reverse your stride activate different muscle groups for a complete workout.
  • Many people are surprised to learn that they are actually working harder on an elliptical since it seems like it requires less effort than a treadmill.


Disadvantages of Using an Elliptical

  • When the machine is set at lower levels it is easy to allow its momentum to move the pedals. This can make a workout less effective.
  • Since the pedals are suspended off the ground less impact stress is felt by your joints, this also limits its “weight bearing effect” which is necessary to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.
  • If the elliptical machine does not allow you to adjust the incline, the results can be minimized.

Elliptical Vs Treadmill


Benefits of Using a Treadmill

  • You can walk, sprint and run on a treadmill and most models come with several programming options for even more versatility in your workouts.
  • Since treadmills have been around for over 100 years they are well researched and have been developed more than any other type of cardio exercise machine.
  • The natural movement of the treadmill makes it one of the simplest exercise machines to use.
  • Since you are putting weight on your joints and bones a treadmill can help prevent osteoporosis.


Disadvantages of Using a Treadmill

  • Running and even brisk walking on a treadmill can put stress on your bones and joints, which can be painful for people with arthritis or are recovering from certain injuries.
  • Depending on your familiarity with the exercise machine and level of fitness, treadmills can actually be dangerous for some people to use.
  • Most treadmills only allow for heart rate monitoring by gripping the handles which can be awkward when you are running.
  • Some studies have shown that the size of the treadmill belt can actually cause problems with posture.
  • Even though adjusting the incline on a treadmill will improve your results, running uphill is difficult and this feature is seldom used enough to make a noticeable difference.


One other factor to consider when you are trying to decide between a treadmill and elliptical, especially if weight loss is a goal, is which machine is capable of helping you burn the most calories. The Medical College of Wisconsin found that on average people burned 705 to 866 calories jogging on a treadmill for one hour. A similar study noted on average people burned 773 calories working out on an elliptical for 60 minutes, but this will change based on resistance, incline and stride length.


Other Considerations

Even though ellipticals as a general rule are considered safer than treadmills since they provide you with a low impact cardio workout, you still need to be careful not to overdo it. To ensure that it is safe for you to use an elliptical and that you don’t push yourself to hard, it is always best to get approval from your primary care provider regardless of your age.


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