The UK’s population is getting older, with 18% aged 65 and over, according to The Office for National Statistics
. It’s no surprise then that Fitness Programs for Older Adults took fourth place in the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2019
, having been in the top 10 since 2007.
Because people are living, working and staying more active for longer, there is a growing market of older generations, led by the Baby Boomers, looking for the support and guidance of professionals to cater for their fitness needs. These individuals tend to have more disposable income than their younger counterparts to spend on these types of services, and it can be highly rewarding helping them to maintain or regain the ability to stay active and live independently.
So, if you’re yet to train older adults, then you may wish to reconsider. But before you jump right in, let’s look at what it involves…
In older age, many people become inactive, which means they lose muscle, their hearts aren’t as strong, their endurance is more limited, and they’re not as mobile or agile as they once were. When designing a fitness programme for a client with a few more years under their belt, begin with basic types of cardiovascular (cardio), resistance and flexibility exercises. However, do keep in mind that not all older adults have low fitness levels; in fact, some are far from it and would give younger guns a run for their money! As always, it’s about doing your usual assessments before implementing a client’s programme – getting to know their history, current fitness levels and what they’re trying to achieve.
Make Sure You Modify
Many older people have to deal with multiple health issues, so it’s important to understand how to modify exercises to take account of these, which could include high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis or poor vision, to name but a few.
Exercises to Avoid
It goes without saying that each programme should be designed specifically for the individual, but, as a general rule, it’s usually best to avoid exercises which require excessive weight, quick or vigorous movements, a high degree of balance, reaching overhead, or being static for too long.
Don’t Skip on Strength Training
Don’t be fooled by their age – older adults can still build and maintain muscle, so make sure you include some basic resistance training in their workout programmes. For those who have been completely inactive, start with some basic movements and progress gradually. Gym machines, as opposed to free weights, offer an effective way for your older clients to work all their muscle groups, with a reduced chance of injury. Resistance bands are also a great alternative for seniors, as they’re light and easy to handle; perfect for them use in the gym and at home.
No matter your age, but particularly in the case of older adults, it can be beneficial to do exercises that improve the strength and efficiency of the heart and circulatory system, so when planning programmes for those in their senior years, be sure to include some safe and effective cardio. But please remember that, as you get older, balance becomes harder, so running on the treadmill is probably not the best option for your senior clients. Instead, look to incorporate machines into your sessions which support older adults, such as recumbent bikes and seated steppers. Also, bear in mind that walking is often the best form of cardio for someone in their later years.
Tight muscles, tendons and ligaments can not only cause pain and discomfort for older people, but they can also result in a poor range of motion which increases the risk of falls and injuries. However, a simple stretching routine can help to counteract years of muscle tightness and improve flexibility to improve a person’s quality of life.
Goal setting is key to any fitness programme, no matter whether your eighteen or eighty! By understanding your clients’ abilities and current fitness levels, you’ll be able to help them identify SMART goals which they can work towards. An example of a goal an inactive senior might choose is being able to get up and down from their chair more easily, being able to get down on the floor to play with their grandchildren or being able to walk to the end of their garden and back. A more active senior may wish to improve the distance of their golf drive or complete a Parkrun.
As the saying goes, age is just a number, so interact with senior clients in the same way you would with everyone else; they’ll sense if you’re not being yourself. Use your skills of emotional intelligence to understand what makes them tick and adjust your approach accordingly, remembering that older clients deserve just as much attention – if not more – due to the high possibility of them having multiple health problems. One of the great things about working with seniors is that you get to learn from their life experiences, as many of them are only too happy to share tales from the past.
Alongside helping them to stay fit and healthy, you could also be doing wonders for their mental health, as many seniors can become lonely and isolated in older age. You could be one of the few people they interact with on a regular basis, so always take the opportunity to add a little brightness to their day.
As you can see, working with older adults not only provides a lucrative business opportunity for personal trainers, but it can also make the job even more rewarding.
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