Tips for training seniors (ages 65-plus):
• Before training, make sure there are no medical conditions that would prevent safe exercising.
• Ask the senior if they have any preferences in certain activities.
• Warm up muscles and joints sufficiently. This might include walking outside or on a treadmill, or pedaling a recumbent bike.
• Check for any discomfort in hip or knee joint. Start off with low level aerobics to warm up the hip muscles.
• Proceed slowly into a workout that might include focus on aerobic, strength, core exercises, functional fitness and flexibility.
Aerobic activity: Encourage the client to move often during the day instead of sitting for long periods of time. Walking is preferred. Aquatic exercise or a stationary cycle may be better for those who find weight-bearing exercises difficult.
Strength training: Muscle strength declines significantly after age 50 and weight training should be done with light weights at a comfortable level. Increase repetitions as muscles get stronger. Good for metabolism, bone density, insulin resistance and sleep patterns.
Core exercises: Improves balance and stability, which will reduce risk of falls.
Functional fitness: Adding exercises that mimic daily activities improves day-to-day function, which improves independence and allows for a better quality of life.
Flexibility: Slow easy stretches are important due to a lack of elasticity in the muscles. Tight muscles reduce the body’s range of motion, can affect balance, reduce fluidity to the joints and reduce the ability to perform daily tasks. Use static stretches instead of rapid movements.
Source: American College of Sports Medicine
Low-cost fitness classes for seniors can be found throughout the metro area, but many older adults are looking for something more, and are hiring personal fitness trainers for an individualized workout.
Alpharetta resident Carla Benton did just that. After moving from North Carolina to be closer to family, the 85-year-old widow found a convenient neighborhood fitness center that offered the type of Silver Sneakers exercise classes she previously had enjoyed.
But Benton wanted to do a little extra and learn how to use the machines and other equipment at the center. Having a personal fitness trainer to teach her seemed like a good idea.
For the next three months she met weekly with a trainer, routinely warming up on a recumbent bike or treadmill, then working on strength and balance using stretch bands and balls. The two also built a trusting personal relationship.
Benton is now happily attending Silver Sneakers classes but also knows how to use the fitness equipment as well as exercises she can do at home.
“The trainer I had was great,” Benton said. “She never pushed me too hard. She knew what I needed for my age and what I could do.”
The fitness industry for older adults is “huge and growing” with the rise in senior population, said Tiffany Esmat, assistant professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University.
Esmat teaches a class on exercise and aging, and her students are required to fan out into the community and lead the elderly in fitness activities.
Working with older adults is considered a specialty in exercise science. While muscle strength declines significantly after age 50, maintaining strength and endurance are vital for well-being and independence.
“Having basic muscular strength and endurance, to get off the toilet or walk across the room, can make a huge difference in the quality of life,” Esmat said.
Good strength is also necessary to keep from falling. When older adults slip or trip, many don’t have the ankle strength or hip mobility to recover and keep from falling down, Esmat said. Fitness trainers can work on those areas.
A trainer also can provide a conditioning baseline and teach the proper exercise form to prevent injury.
Here are a few suggestions for seniors seeking a personal fitness trainer:
• Foremost, find someone who has worked with older adults before, Esmat said. Certifications are important, but they don’t trump experience. “Just because they have worked with a 25-year old doesn’t mean they know how to work with a senior,” she said.
• The trainer should pre-screen clients to find out their fitness level. “That’s a red flag if the trainer doesn’t ask questions,” Esmat said. “How do they know where you should start? They could have you doing things that could hurt you.”
• Fitness goals should come from the client, not the trainer. And the workout should not be so stressful that you can’t get out of bed the next day.
• Finally, hire someone you feel comfortable with. The trainer and client need to have a partnership.
“The best thing about working with a personal fitness trainer is having the individual attention and learning the proper exercise form. It’s an investment in yourself,” Esmat said.