What seniors need to know about exercise

Seniors can get great benefits from regular exercise.
Seniors can get great benefits from regular exercise. THE WASHINGTON POST

Seniors today have a lot on their minds.

Since people are living longer (an average of about five years more than about 50 years ago), there is more concern about how to stay well during the golden years.

Financial costs such as health care, elder care, prescription medications are among the chief concerns. One thing that has been proven again and again by science and practice is that exercise can improve quality of life in many ways, including reducing financial costs associated with poor health.

Facing fears

Exercise concerns can be daunting, even more so to those who haven’t exercised in some time. Concerns of falling and getting hurt, being too weak to exercise because of persistent aches and pains and more may stop some seniors before they even get started. However, many of those concerns are more myth or urban legend than anything else.

It may be helpful to consider the array of benefits gained from exercise such as not only better physical health, but also more chances for socializing, improved physical appearance, improved mood, prevention of some diseases and decreased stress.

Seniors might not be able to perform at the level they once did in their 20s or 30s. The benefites, however, are certain, regardless of age, and getting into fitness at an older age may make more sense than any other time in one’s life.

How to get started?

Like most who seek professional help from certified trainers, seniors typically want to know what they should do and what they shouldn’t do.

According to Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certified trainer Nianna Balzli, seniors are concerned with health issues such as heart attacks, blood pressure, arthritis and back problems.

International Sports Science Association certified trainer Lynnell Young said seniors’ concerns depend upon their goals.

Balzli suggests that seniors “not take on too much too fast.”

Similarly, Young said seniors should “start slowly.” The take away here is that seniors can and should take their time getting back to or starting an exercise program.

Goals matter

Young stressed that fitness goals are highly important. She said there are seniors who want to “get back into shape,” those who want to “stay healthy” and some who just want to “get healthy” in the first place.

These may seem similar in nature, but can be vastly different in what it means in the training room or gym. More importantly, Young said, is “not what happens in the gym but what happens in the kitchen,” or that fitness training while ignoring nutrition is not nearly enough. “If it (your food) comes in a box or a bag, then you probably don’t want it,” Young added.

Consult doctor

Both Balzli and Young highly recommend that anyone beginning a fitness program consult his or her primary care provider beforehand. Once that happens, the training can begin. Seniors should then consult a trainer and work on what fitness goals, such as losing weight, increasing muscle mass or maintaining current level of fitness. Each of these is a different goal, so the exercise plans also will be different.

In addition to different goals, there are different benefits derived from exercise or training.

Balzli and Young cited various benefits related to exercise, including reducing some pain, reducing chances of developing cancer, increasing social interaction, returning to a better range of motion and extending life.