Linda Steger lifts 10-pound weights in front of a chalkboard that says, “Warning: Exercise has been known to cause health and happiness.”
For Steger, who is 66, the words in chalk at a tiny gym in Sandy Springs could describe her fitness journey. Steger worked out in her 20s and 30s, but once she hit 40, she backed off from exercising with the exception of an occasional stroll around her neighborhood.
Once she turned 60, Steger started noticing some of her friends lose their balance. They also seemed frail. She knew she was not immune to losing strength and vitality, and that she was headed in the same direction unless she got moving again.
At first when she started a new fitness routine, she became discouraged because she started feeling lower back pain after exercising. But within months, she finally renewed her commitment to physical fitness after connecting with Randy Nicholson, owner of Fitness Firm Studio. He customizes workouts for clients ranging in age from 9 to 88. About a third of Nicholson’s clients are 65 and older.
More older adults are turning to exercise to reap health benefits at a time when a growing body of research shows regular exercise helps with everything from controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels to lowering the risk of heart attack. Exercise also keeps the body more limber and lowers the risk of everyday injuries.
In 2012, almost 38 percent of adults 65 and older were getting the minimum recommended amounts of aerobic exercise each week, up from 26 percent in 1998, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More older adults are also meeting the minimum muscle-strengthening guidelines — going from about 9 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 2012.
(The U.S. government recommends adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of both. Adults should also engage in muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights or doing pushups at least twice per week.)
With age, adults often experience diminished endurance, strength and balance. But that doesn’t mean older adults can only do easy routines. Health experts also recommend older adults incorporate strength training into their fitness routine. Even adding light weights (or household items such as canned foods or milk jugs) helps maintain your muscle mass and promote bone health, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Meanwhile in Lilburn, Nancy Burnham, who didn’t get serious about exercising until she was 61 years old, became an ACE certified personal trainer — at age 65. She now works primarily with older adults, most of whom are over 60; one of her clients is in her 70s.
Burnham, a personal trainer at a CrossFit gym in Lilburn (CrossFit Lilburn 678), recommended those getting started do their research by searching on the ACE website (www.acefitness.org/acefit/locate-trainer) for personal trainers who specialize in working with older adults — the kind of trainer who can tailor a program to your individual needs.
After being assessed for injuries and other limitations, Steger started a routine at Fitness Firm that mixed cardio and weight training. Nicholson, who is 50, said the key to working with older adults is making them feel comfortable working out, easing concerns about getting injured while exercising, while also designing a exercise regimen that is challenging.
“When Linda first started, she couldn’t jump onto a piece of carpet,” he said, “and now she is jumping onto 10- to 12-inch-tall boxes.”
Steger also credits Nicholson’s “Active Health Roller” (made with golf balls and steel rod) with helping stave off injuries. After using the roller to help “roll out” pain points and ease muscle soreness, Steger moved from one station to the next in a high-intensity workout that included weights, squats, pullups — and jumping on sturdy steel boxes.
And while Steger is experiencing firsthand the benefits of regular exercise, one of the best reasons, she will tell you, is that it makes you feel good.
“I stopped exercising and let other things take precedence over my life,” Steger said. “I now look forward to working out and going to Fitness Firm. It’s a place of encouragement, healing and getting and staying strong and healthy. All that and fun, too. You can’t beat that.”
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