Only one-in-five American adults meet the minimum recommendations for physical activity, and the motivation to make a commitment and be consistent drops off as a person gets older. Health professionals, sociologists, scientists, and, others, hope to reverse this trend by uncovering what really convinces people to stay active.
I do believe that older adults understand the benefits associated with regular exercise, but, many of them view physical activity as just another chore rather than see it as an opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing. If you couple that with other multiple common medical health conditions such as arthritis, low back pain, or heart conditions it can make the thought of exercise uncomfortable.
So what can we do? How do we begin to search for the answers that will not only educate, and motivate, but keep seniors engaged?
In my experience as a certified Senior Fitness Specialist I have found that keeping exercise routines interesting goes a long way. One of my clients, Mary 82 years young, started with many of the misconceptions older adults have. She really wanted to focus on improving her balance but based on past exercises, she felt that it would be boring. “Who wants to stand around on one leg?” she said, “Boring.”
After assessing what she could do I started her on stepping over agility cones, helping her balance by displacing her body’s centre of mass. To further give her confidence we used tubing attached to a door and had her balance on one foot while doing a back row. Now her mind was engaged and she was working on balance, back muscles, core, and agility all at once without knowing it! Mary has been a client for six years now and looks forward to our twice, weekly sessions.
It is good to remember that pushing too hard can be overwhelming and may not reinforce a positive outlook. Prior to starting my own business I, worked with older adults at a large fitness center. One day I overheard a 70-year-old tell his trainer that he finally made it to the gym at the urging of his wife and wanted to try the treadmill. His trainer set it for 10 minutes and told him “If you want to go longer just press start again”. Well, I didn’t believe this was a good way for him to start and within less than a minute he jumped off of the treadmill gasping for air. After walking to the side to sit down he passed another older adult and said “I could barely last a full minute on that treadmill.” “All right all right” said the other man, “no reason to brag!”
Make it fun, keep it simple. In my next article I’ll expand more on why older adults don’t exercise; discussing some of the mind and body barriers and ways to overcome them.