Growing old, getting younger.

April 15, 2011

I have “older” parents.  They’re super cool (duh).  Even though they have a whole host of age-related issues including osteoporosis, knee replacement, heart disease, arthritis and probably a few more that I don’t know about, my parents go to the gym at least twice a week to get their sweat on.  They tell me it feels good.  In fact, I haven’t heard them say, “Gee, I wish I didn’t work out today!  I really wasted my time.”

Age inevitably happens to all of us.  Remember the phrase, “I’ve fallen and can’t get up”?   As we get on in years, fear of falling, pain when standing from a seated position and lack of strength when opening that jar of pickles are likely to lead to self-imposed restrictions.  Granted, there are many physiological changes taking place:

  • Decreased cardiac output and lung capacity
  • Reduced maximum heart rate and aerobic capacity
  • Decreased flexibility, increased joint stiffness
  • Decreased bone density (osteopenia and osteoporosis)
  • Muscles atrophy at a greater rate
  • Changed metabolic rate (and not for the better)
  • Increased risk of fall-lack of balance and stability
  • Increase in the incidence of joint-related disease, such as arthritis

Sedentary adults begin to lose significant muscle & bone mass at an alarming rate between ages 40 and 50!  In order to offset the decline of our bodies as we age, study after study shows that weight-bearing and aerobic exercise can slow down the aging process.  If appropriate intensity and duration of exercise is maintained over a period of time for an elderly person, their muscle can adapt in a similar way to that of young muscle.  In other words, with a little work, one can reverse the loss of muscle and bone mass and gain a little strength and stamina in the process!  (No amount of money can buy that!!)

There are at least a million ways working out can benefit our parents.  Some improvements include:

  • Mood boosts:  fight depression
  • Increased energy: more likely to be spontaneously physically active
  • Quality of life
  • Strength gains and bigger muscle size
  • Stronger joints and connective tissues (ease arthritic pain)
  • Better flexibility and joint range of motion
  • Hello balance and coordination!
  • Endurance, both mental and physical
  • um, and obviously happier as a result!

In my 6+ years as a trainer, the most eager and determined clients are the 60-plus set.  These people have the most to live for:  GRANDCHILDREN!  TRAVEL!  LIFE! If I put before my 66-year-old client a set of exercises, instead of complaining about the task at hand (like my 20-30-somethings), they put their game face on and get to work.  Absolutely nothing can stand in their way from finishing each and every rep.  It’s pretty amazing, actually!

Below are some guidelines for seniors to keep in mind when beginning an exercise routine:

  1. First and foremost, check with your doctor and get medical clearance.
  2. Speak with an informed, experienced professional about form and function: your program should carry over to activities to improve daily functions.
  3. Begin slowly with low-impact cardio (walking, biking, swimming, etc.), stretching and light weight/high repetitions (10-20).
  4. Ensure good posture:  train how you want to be in life.  Chest up, chin back, shoulders down, navel to spine.
  5. No cheating:  work through full range of motion.
  6. Avoid the Valsalva Maneuver:  don’t hyper-squeeze your fists around weights and hold your breath.  Breathe through each exercise.
  7. Listen to your body:  follow a 2-hour pain rule. If you experience joint pain two hours after weight training, the intensity needs to be reduced.
  8. Progress your program slowly:  don’t be in a rush to do power lifting.
  9. Feel good:  enjoy yourself!
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