Yes, we are talking about you. The fitness classes at most senior centers and gyms are pathetically small. It seems that many seniors are concerned that physical activity or an exercise class will be too strenuous for them. They freely voice that are afraid that exercising will do more harm than good.
This is so wrong. An inactive life style will set you up for failure. Failure means losing the ability to be independent. Seniors have special needs. The key to senior fitness is finding a facility to meet these needs. Fitness for older adults can take many forms. Older people wanting to be active need to take a few more precautions than the usual gym member, but that shouldn’t be a problem. First and foremost is that you need your doctor’s okay before you start any fitness program. Your doctor will not only give you a pat on the back but he/she will talk to you about heart rate monitoring, and any precautions you should be taking. Richard Romero (McClatchy-Tribune Business News: WA. January 3, 2011) reminds us that a workout plan should always be based on individual risk factors like health and medical history.
You need to start slowly with moderate bouts of activity that are designed to build endurance. The goal is to learn how to do a properly choreographed workout that will focus on activities of daily living. Senior exercise programs will focus on balance, proper breathing, posture, reaching to a high shelf, stooping rather than bending, getting in and out of vehicles and getting up from a chair or from the floor. This is a little different than the six-pack abs and pumping iron routines that you have come to expect. Yes you still have to do cardio and strength training, but “easy does” it. Start with small bouts of cardiac exercise nearly every day (you don’t expect your heart to take a day off do you?) and work up to 30 minutes. Keep in mind that going to the gym doesn’t mean you can snooze the rest of the day. You need to keep moving.
General strength training is important but it is okay to ease into it slowly. Older people need to watch out for signs that they might be putting too much stress on their bodies. One hint is shortness of breath or pain. “No pain, no gain” is no longer an option. Age brings enough aches and pains without finding new ways to punish yourself. Pain is not normal. If you feel like you are pushing yourself too much, you are likely going too fast and too far.
Physical activity does not have to be all conventional exercise in order to work. A good program might include senior sports, dancing, yoga, tai chi and more. A complete physical fitness program must include certain components: cardiovascular, endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and balance. Any element lacking in a greatly enjoyed activity can be pursued separately.
An article featured in The Special Sections Department of the Herald (July 22, 2010) made a few sensible recommendations for senior exercisers:
- Get medical clearance to exercise.
- Don’t exercise if you are injured, sick or running a temperature.
- Always warm up and cool down.
- Drink plenty of fluids
- If fatigue or discomfort last for more than an hour or two after exercising, cut back the next day, but don’t stop completely. Comfort level ranges can change daily, listen to your body and don’t be discouraged if you can’t do as much one day as you did the day before.
Find exercises and activities that you enjoy and stick to them. Staying active is good for you and will contribute to your health, activity level, and an independent lifestyle.