Samuel Jennings came to me three months ago at age 68 and already in very good shape. He wanted to perpetuate his longevity and had some additional goals.
Among them, Sam wants to age gracefully and maintain a decent quality of life and he knows that in order to do this exercise must be part of the prescription. Sam is one of the several older adults whom I work with and he is very much a part of a growing population that needs and deserves attention.
I just came to the realization the other day that in less than three years, I will be turning 50, getting my AARP card and becoming part of the majority exercise population. The 50-plus population is becoming the fastest growing fitness and exercise population. And while just missing the Baby Boomer status myself by a year, which technically and arguably ended in 1964, I am confident I will be entering some of the best years of my life as long as I stay fit and exercise regularly, eat well, get regular doctor’s check-ups, etc. You can too and at any age.
“For about 15 years, the Baby Boom fitness market has been slowly growing,” says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging. “But, in the last several years it has really exploded and it’s exploded in many segments including health club memberships.” According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, older adults are hitting gyms and health clubs at a record rate and from 1987-2003, the number of health club members aged 55 and older grew by 343 percent. These figures will only continue to grow more and more.
The American College of Sports Medicine predicts that by 2030 the number of individuals 65 years and older will reach 70 million in the United States. Those 85 and older will then be the fastest-growing segment of our population.
I have been very fortunate in my personal training career to have embraced this population many years ago when I was at Sports Club/LA and we were beginning to experience the shift in the personal training industry with more and more senior adults hiring personal trainers to maintain their quality of life and longevity. While I have no idea how old the oldest living gym goer is or has been, I had the absolute joy of working with Ms. Agnes Jackson, who was 105 when she began exercising in a group class at the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home in Friendship Heights. Prior to Ms. Jackson there was “Granny” Evelyn Wimmer (whom I wrote about last year) who came to me at 92 and worked with me three times a week until she died at 98. I am confident that I will be working with more and more older adults.
Currently, I have clients well into their 60s and 70s and I marvel at the increase in the average lifespan and how seriously this population, often dismissed, take exercise. Loss of independence is of particular concern and enough to scare anyone. No one wants to live in any sort of diminished capacity and being proactive so that does not happen is key. This applies to everyone.
But, just what do we do with seniors and what exercises can be done? First don’t call them old and second don’t discount them or their ability. Seniors can engage in just about any form of exercise as those younger, but with additional caveats, such as a full health screening, full physical assessment of strengths and weaknesses and potential need for medical clearance.
We also need to dispel and educate those who are timid to exercise because of the many myths associated with exercise for older adults. Many are resistant to beginning an exercise program because they are fearful that they will injure themselves. But its crucial to your health to work through your fears and establish a routine exercise program. We are discovering that aging itself is not the problem. Here Milner points out that, “a lot of problems we used to think of as being related to aging we now know aren’t related to aging at all. They are related to disuse of the body.” And just about every area of health can be maintained or increased with physical activity. Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and more are no longer the impediments to exercise they were once thought to be.
Be sure to follow all the standard guidelines if you are new to a fitness regimen, but also remember to always listen to your body. No one knows it better than you, not even your personal trainer.