Seniors need to exercise to help them stay strong and independent. When seniors exercise and get stronger, they will be able to help offset the degenerative side effects of aging. Baby Boomers are the most health conscious generation to enter their later years, meaning more and more seniors are coming to your gym. Trainers will need to know how to accommodate them and how to train with them to promote senior fitness.
When seniors don’t stretch, their tendons and muscles will start to shorten, decreasing motion. Stretching can help combat this shortening. Advise seniors to perform stretches at least three times each and hold it for a minimum of 10 seconds. Easy stretches include:
Many stretches can be done sitting down. For example, a neck stretch. Keeping their feet flat on the floor shoulder length apart, have seniors slowly turn their head until they feel a slight stretch.
Starting a senior weight training program will help seniors build up bone and muscle to help them maintain balance and joint health. As you would any client, find out how much the individual can safely and comfortably lift. For seniors, start off with light weights, around two to five pounds. Focus on strengthening exercises that focus on:
For example, to strengthen the arms and core, start with a bicep curl. Have seniors stand up straight with legs shoulder length apart and knees slightly bent, dumbbells in hand with palms facing out. Guide them in curling the weight up towards the body and back down slowly. Make sure they keep their wrist straight to reduce the chance of injury and not swing their arm or elbow. Doing so could result in injury.
Walking on a treadmill seems like an easy thing to do, but many seniors are often reluctant to use the treadmill for fear of falling. Even if they are confident in other exercises, they may grip onto the treadmill. Holding on will cause seniors to walk with a slump and weaken their posture. Encouraging them to let go will improve their posture and by extension, their balance. Start the treadmill on a slow walking speed to allow seniors to get used to walking on a machine. Then, with confidence, tell them to let go and walk as they normally would. Without slouching over the machine, clients will be able to walk straight and strengthen their back muscles.
If a treadmill is too hard on seniors’ joints, ellipticals and recumbent bikes are a good alternative, as they put less stress on joints. A training plan for seniors choosing to use ellipticals and bikes can include starting off at a slow speed before speeding up for several seconds, then slowing down again. Doing so will get the heart pumping and help improve the stamina of seniors. Trainers should be sure to keep a close eye on the heart rate of senior clients to make sure it stays in a safe range.