Over the years of working at the Arnold Sports Festival, a common trend has resulted with the demographics of the over 120,000 people attending that weekend. Originally, the 18 to 25-year-old male group represented the majority, but that number has slowly risen and is now being led by the 25-45-year-old male group.
It is a simple trend that is reflected in many gyms across the country and reflective of the more mature adult beginning to train at the gym. Secondary to this shift is associated with the next fastest growing group of individuals who are over 50 years of age in our society.
Attracting And Maintaining The Mature Client
Now that the average life expectancy in the United States is at 77 years, quality of life in one's later years is increasingly important. As a gym owner, or a personal trainer, your marketability to attract and maintain the mature client is definitely reflective of the current needs seen in fitness today.
Understanding and conforming to the protocol necessary for individuals who are over the age of 50, and specifically those over the age of 65, can prove to be very lucrative for any fitness facility.
A simple example of this can be seen based upon the peak times associated with many gyms. Most people with jobs workout early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but there is a definite drop-off in membership attendance between the hours of 10 am 'til 3 pm. This is typically the time that an elderly individual is available to train.
One of the first things that we need to do is look at the special concerns associated with training someone who is older. Life takes its toll on the human body and causes many health deficits to form, which require changes in protocol for training.
Concerns For Those Over 50 Years Of Age
Let's take a look at some of the special concerns associated with individuals who are over 50 years of age, who want to exercise:
- Loss of flexibility
- Loss of strength
- Loss of endurance
- Loss of stability/and balance
- Increased sensitivity to heat/cold/humidity
- Increased susceptibility to cuts/bruises/contact abrasions/skin ulcers associated with diabetes.
- A decline in memory
- Vision changes
- Inability to exercise longer than 45 minutes due to unstable insulin levels
These are all common factors associated with training someone who is older than 50 and certainly older than 65-70 years of age. When dealing with individuals who have special needs, it is always best to include those individuals into a group that is adapted and supportive of their own similar needs.
Improving The Quality Of Life
The loss of flexibility as we age is very common. It is the most predominant lost factor associated with aging. The loss of strength is quite common in individuals and often results in the fact that they are unable to become independent for their daily task.
Luckily, exercise routines, when properly performed, often result in an increase of flexibility and strength. It is very important to note these factors when you are doing a pre- and post-exercise program evaluation. This validates the need for additional exercise and justifies any possible cost associated with the program.
Obviously there is a common loss of endurance that is associated with deconditioning of the cardiac and respiratory tissues (heart and lungs). The good news is that individuals who are elderly respond extremely fast to cardiovascular training. The gains associated with endurance are often exponentially higher than those associated with flexibility and strength gains.
Coordination and core stability are often lost in individuals as they age. The integration of balance activities that are age-appropriate is beneficial to the elderly client. Many other small changes need to be made.
Small Changes To Various Protocols
The addition of various protocols that can result in potential injury are also abundantly important. Wearing shoes to prevent injury from the equipment and floor. Large fonts on written workouts to provide easier visibility and larger numbers on weights. Trained personnel in CPR and other first aid protocols are required by many states.
Many exercise programs need to adhere to the maximum time of 45 minutes. This is necessary since it is difficult for individuals over the age of 65 to maintain a blood sugar level that is adequate enough to sustain proper brain activity.
Flexibility and core training are often not included in this total time factor since they often don't elevate the heart rate to a higher level than rest. The individual's general physical capabilities and other health conditions obviously are a factor involved in the final determination in total exercise time.
Judy Ballenger is a beautiful and fit elderly-certified group fitness trainer associated with the SilverSneakers® program originally offered by Anthem, Humana Health care plans. She adds there are various exercises to avoid according to the specific elderly protocol she herself follows at 65+ years of age.
Exercises Not To Do For Clients Over The Age Of 65
- Raising more than one leg at a time (even when the client is seated)
- Forward flexion at the hip greater than 45 degrees (this has to do with blood pressure and balance issues)
- Inversions requiring the head to go below the heart (reaching down from a standing position to pick up a water bottle/weights, etc.)
- Overuse of a joint or muscle group (group of upper body arm exercises all requiring sustained abduction of the shoulder joint coupled with more exercises requiring additional abduction/adduction shoulder work)
- Uncontrolled momentum as it relates to a full range of movement (following music faster than 124-128 bpm or cueing to swing hand-held weights in a large range of movement)
- Excessive or forced hyperextension and hyperflexion of a joint/joints (neck, wrist and knees equals neck extension greater than 30 degrees, bending the wrist forward or back with the other hand, triceps dips using the chair as support, holding the knee (fully flexed) on the outside of the leg, quadriceps stretch with the foot held in place behind the body)
- Double-arm overhead triceps extension with hand-held weights
- High impact aerobic moves (i.e. jumping or hopping)
- Floor work exercises (with many it would be the "I've fallen and can't get up!" fear and reality)
- Exercises with any height difference (i.e. step-boards, as balance issues and the potential for falling are the main concerns here)
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Helpful Tips For Seniors
Very sturdy chairs (straight-back, armless steel gauge) that are easy to grip help many individuals to add balance or stability for any standing exercise and offer a simple seated platform for which they can workout on.
A chair should be provided for each participant in the class. Elastic tubing with handles, simple light dumbbells ranging from 1-8 pounds, and a 6-9" semi-soft rubber ball provide all the equipment that is necessary to provide a complete "anti-aging" exercise class. Participants should bring water to class, dress in comfortable clothing, and wear shoes with good lateral support and shock absorption qualities.
Programs designed for individuals that are even over 40 years of age, should always implement a 10 minute warm-up time. Some stretching may be necessary prior to beginning any further exercises. This is necessary to provide ample time for increased circulation and proper mental preparation.
Reasons For Training
Statistically most of the individuals who begin an exercise program in the age range of 30-45 years are participating based upon a change of life status (i.e. divorce). Individuals who begin an exercise program 45-60 are primarily doing so based upon change of health status.
Individuals who began an exercise program 60-85 are doing so based upon social activities and self maintenance. Exercise programs for the elderly are very beneficial at maintaining ones independent status. The research shows that if the exercise program is followed beginning at age 60, that individual is likely to not require aid living for the remainder of their life.
Client compliance is very high with group training. Many older individuals can see their "buddies" and will make the trip to the gym in all kinds of weather just for the social aspects of training.
The socialization aspect of discussing common aches and pains is very unifying during this type of activity. Many gyms can offer the space for the class to hold an old-fashioned potluck luncheon following the class to add some extra fun to the fitness.
Many endearing relationships are formed from activities such as this and participants often bring more clients to the fitness classes increasing gym memberships.
Most people over the age of 65 are often not involved in active full time employment and are often seeking workouts that are off peak times. Many are gearing towards morning or early afternoon as their primary choice for exercise.
Insulin response is often the primary factor that provides this to be the best time for them to exercise. Night time and early morning driving are often avoided by many aging individuals due to the fact that they see halos while they are driving in the dark.
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Many Older Individuals Can See Their 'Buddies' And Will Make
The Trip To The Gym Just For The Social Aspects Of Training.
The addition of specific programs relative to the aging exercise group offers a complete community awareness of fitness needs. Some special training is advised, but the results are very beneficial to both the gym and the community as a whole.