Why won’t Grandma Exercise?

Mind and body barriers and how to overcome them.

Myles Dias, Master Trainer, Certified Senior Fitness Specialist

In my earlier article entitled “Yes you can get Grandma to Exercise” I mentioned that only one in five American adult’s meet the minimum recommendations for physical activity and it get’s worse, as we age.  So why won’t older adults exercise?  Are seniors that do exercise and benefit from physical activity special?  Have they found the magic that compels them to be active?  Perhaps!

The reasons for older adults not wanting to exercise are complex and varied.  Research shows that lack of self motivation and education are the two most important factors. Other reasoning includes attitude toward exercise, lack of confidence in their physical and goal setting abilities, fear of injury, no time or energy, or lack of access to senior specific fitness facilities and professionals.

As a certified senior fitness specialist, I work with older adults more than any other population.  Based on this experience my objective became to better understand older adults, why they don’t exercise and how I can better motivate them.  Some of the myths and reasons I uncovered are quite extraordinary and eye opening!

Here are some of the excuses that I have heard:

“Trying to exercise and get healthy is pointless; declining health as we age is inevitable”.  There is a perception that decreased body function will curb an older adult’s ability to complete certain tasks.  A good way to combat this is to highlight benefits of exercise as a way to improve bodily appearance and quality of life, for example, explaining improvements in productivity, self-esteem, mood, and overall health.

“Exercise isn't safe for someone my age”.  A second barrier is the fear of injury.  Here is an opportunity to educate about safe and effective approaches to fitness for older adults.  Demonstrating moderate intensity exercises and activities that are fun, simple and safe can be compelling.  Look to turning the tables on the safety issue by explaining how exercise can actually reduce the risk of falling, and prevent chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis from developing.

“I'm too weak to start exercising”.  Many seniors lack the strength, flexibility, or endurance to rise from a chair, walk, or dress independently.  Elders may also hold outdated conceptions of activity itself.  For example, they may believe that beneficial physical activity consists only of running or lifting weights or doing physical activities they engaged in at younger years.  Some believe that if they cannot walk for one hour they obtain no health benefit.  Such all-or-nothing thinking can hamper the development of an achievable, acceptable, graduated activity program.  Maybe they only get out of the chair each day to go to the bathroom.  If so, start there.  Help them to know that deciding today to get in and out of their chair 10 times is a good start.   As they do it more, their strength will increase and higher goals can be set.

I found that understanding the types of concerns facing older adults gave me a better way to start addressing them.  Displaying compassion and sensitivity for personal barriers gave me more success with my clients and helped them believe in themselves.  The key starts with education and education helps with the understanding that the inactivity seniors experience can prevent functional decline and subsequent loss of independence.

For a full list of the Myths about Seniors and Exercise, please visit my community service website blog at https://www.futureofseniorfitness.com/about1-c2556 or my video link at https://www.futureofseniorfitness.com/videos .