Exercise for Seniors Needs a Makeover

LLast fall I sent one of my trainers to San Francisco for an all day conference on “Senior Fitness.” We had just kicked off the Bridge Class, a strength & conditioning program primarily for older adults, and I expected him to acquire numerous ideas to implement. When he returned I asked him to share the information at the next weekly mentoring session I held with all of my team. He looked at me and just shook his head. When I asked him what the trouble was he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I got nothing out of it.”

It turned out the information the facilitator shared must have been pulled out of a time capsule from the 1980’s. All exercises were done with the assumption that once a person reaches the fragile age of 65, they are not able to stand unassisted. These withering individuals, with one foot in the grave, cannot perform most full body movements younger upstarts regard as daily living. Therefore, exercises were to be performed in a chair. No need to get up, your nurse will see to your needs.

“Reach up with one hand…now the other.”, the instructor would say. “Good job Granny! Next, reach out one foot and then pull it back in. Now remember to breathe. We don’t want you dying on us just yet.” (insert quirky announcer’s voice here – “This lecture has been brought to you by the Kevorkian Funeral Home”).

“We are going to get a little risky now and work your balance. Everyone get out of your chairs but hold on to the seat back. Now carefully lift one foot off the floor. Wow, you artifacts are amazing!”

Okay, enough sarcasm. The exercises expressed above were embellishments, but close to the truth. Find out for yourself. Do a quick Google search for Senior Fitness and you will see just what the fitness industry expects of our parents and grandparents. The saddest part of this story was not that the information was terribly outdated but most of the personal trainers in attendance were enthralled with the lecture content and were so excited to take the exercises back to their gym!

The last thing people of any age need to do is sit more. The best thing health clubs can do for their members is to take away the strength machines that require sitting to operate. I will save the “Evils of Sitting” blog for another time but, suffice to say, sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to restricted movements, compensation and joint pain. As we age in this culture, the more likely we are to develop restricted movement. The greater the restriction the greater our limitations. It is more common to see a person in their seventies or eighties walking with short uncertain steps than long confident strides. That needs to change.

So what is it that AARP members need most in regards to fitness? Some might say balance because of the fear of injuries due to falling which might lead to severe complications or death. Truth be told, everyone, no matter what age, will lose their balance all through their lives. The important point is whether a person can stop themselves from falling to the ground after tripping. This is called deceleration against ground reaction force. That sounds like an area on which we could focus. That would require training someone to have quick reaction time and coordination. Power and strength to withstand those forces would be essential. It would also require mobility in the joints and flexibility in the muscles for increasing step distance and reach. That program sounds a lot like a professional athletes program. As it should. We are talking about athletes who are not competing against other athletes but against time and gravity. No one yet has completely won that contest, but that is not the goal. The goal is to continue to live a life with vitality, vibrancy and purpose.

For more information on exercise program design for aging populations please contact the team of trainers at Rocky’s Personal Fitness Training, Inc.

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