Can This Simple Arm Exercise Reverse Aging? Here's What We Know

When we were kids, monkey bars were an important part of playtime in school. We probably didn't think much about launching ourselves up to grab hold of two bars with both hands and then slowly making our way across the rows made of steel, with our friends in tow. It felt natural, carefree, and fun. Plus, it helped you get over your fear of heights.  

But as you grow older, attempting this stunt on a particularly fit friend's chin-up station at a routine get-together in their home can feel relentlessly difficult. You've probably gained more muscle and body fat than you had as a child, and you've forgotten the art of swinging from one bar to another like a monkey. Consistency is key, after all. 

But according to Katy Bowman, kinesiologist and author of the book "Rethink Your Position: Reshape Your Exercise, Yoga, and Everyday Movement, One Part at a Time," it might be time to re-introduce this childhood playtime activity into a routine adult workout, especially if you want to reverse the signs of aging, per The New York Times. Not only are monkey bar exercises one of the best arm workouts you can do without weights, they also target your shoulders, back, and core strength. In fact, they're an overall great upper-body workout.  

Why hanging (and swinging) from a bar reverses aging

Declining muscle strength, reduced flexibility, and age-related atrophy are all realities of an aging body. But exercises that target upper body strength and mobility can help in all of these areas, per Intergrated Rehabilitation Services

When you exercise using monkey bars, in particular, you're also improving posture, grip strength, and core strength, all of which can be useful when you're older. Think about it: Everyday functional movements like bending down to pick up groceries, sitting down, standing up, getting in a vehicle, and even walking necessitate that all of these areas are in good working condition. As we grow older, they become even more paramount. 

In fact, according to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia, and Muscle, there is a positive correlation between feeble grip strength and the acceleration of aging. Even something as simple as climbing stairs becomes challenging when you're older. Improving grip strength means you'll be better able to support your weight while doing this simple activity. The flexibility that grows from swinging from one bar to another, using your upper body strength and aided by the momentum of your legs, can come in handy when you're old. You might not look as hunched over, you'd have more range of motion, and your risk of injury from falls might be less because you'd have better balance (via Unique Fitness).

How to begin exercising on monkey bars as an adult

Monkey bars or anything resembling chin-up exercises can look a lot more daunting when you're an adult, especially if you haven't stuck to a consistent upper-body strength training fitness regimen. It's important to start slow, according to Katy Bowman (via The New York Times). The first time you hang on, support your feet with a low stool or box, and slowly work your way up to an active hang and typical monkey bar movement — moving from one bar to another in a forward or sideways motion. 

"The sideways swing is a good place to start. It helps build up strength and confidence. Try to use the legs to create some swing and momentum," explained personal trainer and coach Rikki Walden via YouTube. As with any form of workout, practice makes perfect, so keep at it until you get more range of motion across the bars.

And for those who can't find monkey bars outdoors, you can seek out a gym that offers the equipment or even build a modest version of the hanging structure at home, using a "$20 doorway chin-up bar that doesn't take up much of a footprint," shared Bowman. You can still build on arm, core, and upper body strength overall by hanging on a chin-up bar for consecutively longer periods of time, every day. Your body and mind will thank you for reintroducing a children's playgroup favorite to adult fitness. If you're older and considering this to slow down aging, however, consult with your physical therapist before you start.