Working Out the Right Way: Fitness Tips for Seniors

KEEPING FIT — David McGuire, a personal fitness trainer, teaches a senior how to exercise. photo courtesy of Pacific Heights Health Club

No one has found the Fountain of Youth for senior citizens yet but there is an alternative for those trying to turn back the clock: exercise.

Medical study after medical study after medical study have found that a regular exercise program can stave off the risk of a variety of ailments — from diabetes to colon cancer to heart disease to osteoporosis — and make you feel younger.

So if that’s the case why isn’t every senior working out? Although it’s unquestionably good for them, the idea of a fitness program can be rather imposing — especially to someone who might be in their 80s.

“Your grandmother shouldn’t worry, she won’t be training for a triathlon,” said personal trainer David McGuire. “Working out is simply about improving her quality of life.”

McGuire believes that a program tailored to match a client’s activities and hobbies is crucial to success. Your grandmother won’t be asked to bench press 200 pounds but she might be asked to stand on one foot to increase her balance — and thus prevent falls.

“If someone gardens I’ll show them exercises that will help them garden longer,” he said. “Or it might be something even more basic, an exercise that helps her hold her grandchild longer.”

When a person sees that they can perform their activities longer and better they’ll work out more diligently, McGuire said. “Success is the best motivation,” he added.

Although it’s never too late to start an exercise program, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. A good trainer will evaluate each client’s current state of health, especially in regards to smoking, injuries, existing medical conditions, medications and general level of activity.

McGuire will go so far as to get permission to discuss a client’s workout program with their physician or physical therapist.

“You want to be on the same page with a doctor or PT,” McGuire said. “You want to make sure your program is on target.”

Although each workout program should be designed around the individual, the National Institutes of Health recommends exercises that address four specific areas: strength, balance, stretching and endurance.

And again, McGuire stresses that any program designed to address those areas should all have practical applications in daily life. For example, McGuire will put a piece of tape on the floor and have a client walk on it to improve balance. Once a client masters that, he’ll make sure the client can do it without looking down.

“You don’t see your feet when you’re carrying a laundry basket, do you?” he said.

He also has clients push against a wall at various heights, which helps in daily activities such as gardening, reaching for high objects, getting out of the tub and pushing carts.

However, it may take some time for a senior to buy into exercising regularly. The rapport between a trainer and a client, especially an older one, takes time to build.

“It doesn’t start immediately. It takes two to three sessions,” he said. Once the client’s trust has been established, McGuire tries to get them to work harder and try new exercises.

McGuire will also contact his older clients during off days simply to help stimulate activity, sometimes calling and asking if they’ve gone outside that day or if they’ve done any of the home exercises he’s suggested.

Recent studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of dementia, adding to the age-old idea that exercise is as good for the brain as it is the body.

This is a concept not lost on McGuire, who mixes in memory games during his client’s exercise program.

“I’ll ask them to name the next holiday or tell me the names of their grandkids,” he said. “Working out has to be fun. I have to get them to smile.”

David McGuire is a personal fitness trainer and can be reached at his Website dmcguirefitness.com. He works through the Pacific Heights Health Club and the National Personal Health Institute. He trains people of all ages, both individually and in outdoor fitness classes.

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