Exercise is an essential part of health and wellness, and this is especially true for older populations who face increased health risks. However, many seniors find it difficult to get the necessary amounts of movement and exercise in their life. According to research by the CDC, by age 75, a third of all men and half of all women no longer do any physical activity at all.
That is where fitness professionals who understand the unique challenges of working with this age group can make a big difference. If you already work with seniors, understanding the unique challenges they face is important to overcoming and preventing risks, as well as planning the best wellness practice.
The Benefits of Exercise for Seniors
Staying active as you age has huge benefits for quality of life. But not all seniors understand the importance of making physical movement a part of their everyday routine. Motivation is a vital part of working with seniors. Highlighting the value of exercise in old age to your clients can help them make it a priority. Depending on their exact situation, you might talk to them about the potential benefits, including:
Reducing the risk of disease: Physical exercise helps to protect our heart health, prevent high blood pressure, and reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer or stroke.
Slowing muscle loss: We naturally lose muscle as we age. But staying physically active can slow the rate of loss. This helps in preventing falls and supporting our bones and joints.
Protecting cognitive function: The ancient Romans were onto something when they talked about a healthy brain in a healthy body. Exercise helps to maintain good cognitive function, preventing memory loss and even reducing the chances of developing dementia.
Supporting healing: Regular exercise helps our immune systems to function properly, increasing our ability to fight off infections. It also speeds up wound healing – possibly by as much as 25%.
Contributing to the overall quality of life: Keeping physically active can prevent depression and lift our mood, as well as keeping us independent for as long as possible.
The Challenges of Exercise for Seniors
Despite the many benefits of exercise for older people, some challenges can prevent seniors from making physical activity a part of their daily routine.
As an exercise and movement science professional, you must meet your clients where they are. Understanding their unique obstacles of exercising can help you develop routines that will assure their safety, and therefore make them more confident about working out.
Some of the barriers that prevent seniors from exercising include:
- Worries over falling or injuring themselves
- A lack of knowledge on how to exercise safely
- A belief that they aren’t capable of exercising
- Lack of a social network that involves physical activity
- Fatigue or health complaints
- A lack of motivation
- Depression, anxiety, or low mood
- Not knowing where to find professional support
- Believing that they are too old to go to a gym or fitness center
Your role as a fitness professional is to understand which obstacles are holding your clients back and support them to overcome these. You will need to think about building their confidence as well as their fitness.
Safe Exercises for Seniors
Older adults sometimes have the misconception that exercise must be rigorous to be effective, even though this is not the case. Even gentle exercise, such as walking, swimming, or active stretching, can improve mobility and lift the mood.
When working with older individuals, you will typically want to start slow and build their confidence. Fitness can begin in small steps around the house, by doing household chores and yard work. This helps maintain their physical stamina. Identifying any activities they enjoy will help their new exercise habit to stick for the long-term.
Exercise routines for seniors should ideally include small levels of cardio, strength training, and stretching. Some options you may try with your clients include:
Low-impact cardio exercises are the best option for seniors, as they are gentle on the joints.
- Water aerobics – aqua jogging, leg lifts, arm curls, flutter kicking
- Step aerobics
Strength exercises encourage stability, supports bones and joints, and helps to prevent falls for seniors.
- Resistance band workouts: leg press, bicep curls, tricep presses, pulling the band apart
- Pilates: leg lifts, bird-dog, donkey kicks, air swimming
- Dumbbell exercises: bicep curls, overhead presses, tricep extensions, front raises
3. Stretches and Balance Exercises
Stretching and balance exercises assist in joint mobility for individuals as they age.
- Chair yoga: side bends, overhead stretches, cat-cow, seated twists
- Tai Chi
- Balance exercises using a chair: clock reaches, pliés, side leg raises
Learning safe and effective exercises is key to helping your clients remain happy and healthy as they age. Working with seniors to improve confidence in physical activity is rewarding for any health and fitness professional.
Choosing to study a degree in exercise and movement science, like the ones we offer at Concordia-Chicago, can help you build a career that caters to every client, at every fitness level and age.
Curious on how you might design a training program for older individuals? Read our article, “9 Questions to Ask When Designing a Training Program.”
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