Studies suggest seniors are more mentally acute, suffer fewer falls, less prone to depression and demonstrate a slower rate of biological aging.
With fitness experts lamenting the large number of inactive seniors, Jordan Deneau, a graduate student from the faculty of Kinesiology at Windsor University, asked 19 active and inactive Canadian men 75 years of age and older what it takes to get them and their peers moving.
Exercise for older adults can mean fewer medical interventions and more independence as the decades add up. Studies suggest that fit seniors are more mentally acute, suffer fewer falls, are less socially isolated, less prone to depression and demonstrate a slower rate of biological aging.
The responses to Deneau’s questions fell into seven distinct categories which he packaged into the “7 As of Active Aging.”
Given that retirement brings with it a fixed income, a gym membership can seem indulgent. And despite low cost and effective exercise options like walking, cycling and swimming, there’s a perception that joining a gym is a prerequisite to getting fit. Fitness classes and memberships at local municipal recreation centres tend to be less expensive than a fitness club. And some clubs have seniors’ discounts or non-prime-time memberships that can result in significant savings.
While many municipalities offer fitness classes designed for seniors, not everyone who could benefit from the classes are aware of what’s available. Communities need to reach out to older citizens with a campaign designed specifically to capture their interest and motivate them to exercise.
Many small cities and towns don’t have municipal recreation centres, which makes it harder for seniors to find out what’s available locally. They can check for local mall walking groups or contact city hall for a list of recreational activities supported by the town(s) in the area.
Seniors with mobility issues or without the use of a car appreciate exercise opportunities that are easy to get to. This is especially important during the winter months when ice and snow make getting around difficult. Proximity to a bus stop, opportunities to car-pool, buildings without a lot of stairs and extra attention paid to clearing the entrance during the winter months makes it easier for older adults to negotiate the facilities.
Also important is the accessibility of the classes and schedule, with options available for novice and experienced exercisers as well as plenty of choice in the workouts offered, including sports like pickle ball and activities like dance, tai chi, chair aerobics, etc.
The 55-plus crowd is diverse, not just in its interests but also in the range of health and mobility issues they face. So not only do workouts and exercise routines need to be targeted to certain groups (arthritis friendly, heart healthy, etc.), it’s important to have instructors who are knowledgeable about how to adapt exercises and exercise routines for individuals with special needs.
Access to a personal trainer can also help older individuals set achievable goals, practice good technique and progress at a rate appropriate for their level of fitness and physical tolerance.
Promoting exercise primarily as a way to reduce the risk of chronic disease is shortsighted. Older adults are most interested in improving or maintaining their quality of life, which means also selling some of the physical and social benefits of regular exercise including better sleep, more energy, greater strength and endurance, improved flexibility and greater range of motion.
Exercise is always better with a friend sweating right alongside — no matter the age. Fitness buddies also help keep each other honest, knocking on the door on those days when curling up in front of the TV holds more allure than a workout. Trouble is, finding an exercise buddy isn’t always easy. Fitness clubs and municipal recreation centres should facilitate buddy systems for seniors so they can find a workout partner who shares their interest in getting fit.
It’s important to educate older exercisers on how much exercise they need and the myriad of ways in which they can incorporate more movement/exercise into their day. Older men are less aware than their female peers of Canada’s physical activity guidelines, which calls for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. It also recommends performing exercises that build muscular strength, bone health and improve balance.
It’s never too late to reap the physical and psychological benefits of moving more everyday, which is a philosophy that should be embraced by seniors and promoted by fitness instructors, trainers and community recreation programmers. A study out of the UK recently reported “keeping physically active or becoming more active during middle and older age is associated with a lower risk of death, regardless of past activity levels or existing health conditions,” which should be reason enough to follow the 7 As of Active Aging.
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