How to adapt your workout as you age
As you get older, it’s easy to let your exercise regimen slip away. Schedules get more complicated with work, spouses and children. Bodies don’t respond as well to high-intensity workouts or longer bouts of activity. But it’s important to stay active for the long run — for a variety of reasons.
As we age, the goal of our activity may shift from weight-loss or general health to more specific goals. Injury and even death from falls is an unfortunate trend for older adults — as adults approach their 70s, they need to consider how to improve their balance and reduce their chances of falling.
There are lots of exercises and programs to improve balance that can be done at the gym or at home. Lee Spieker, the founder and CEO of Physiquality partner program Railyard Fitness, lists a variety of exercises that challenge balance and coordination:
You can also use a balance board to challenge your balance at a higher level — a 2011 study showed that using Indo Balance Boards from Physiquality partner Indo Board “three times a week, for ten minutes [at a time], can significantly improve balance and potentially decrease the risk of falls.”
Another point to consider is muscle mass, or the thickness of one’s muscles. Anna Dark, fitness director of the Take Charge Fitness Program at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Tennessee, notes that as we age, our muscle mass can decrease if it is not challenged. However, she says, “Regular weight resistance exercise can not only slow the process of muscle loss as we age, but also keep the bones strong and reduce our chances of developing osteoporosis.” Such resistance work can be done in the pool, on your feet, or even on a balance board. Hunter Joslin, the creator of the Indo Board mentioned above, points to two different studies from 2009 and 2010 that touted the benefits of combining resistance and balance exercises.
And don’t forget that physical activity improves your mental activity. Recent studies have shown that both resistance training and cardiovascular activity can improve cognitive function. In particular, points out Wayne Seeto (a Master Instructor Trainer and Rehab Specialist for Merrithew Health & Fitness™, another Physiquality partner program), exercise can improve higher cognitive processes, including your short-term memory and switching between tasks.
As Lee has aged, he has found that focusing on functional exercise, activities that engage the entire body, and listening to his body (especially for signs of when to stop exercising) has helped him to live a pain-free life. He says, “A high-intensity workout for a 70-year-old may not be much of a challenge to a 30-year-old, but the workout for the older person is just as effective in building strength.” Wayne cautions that intensity doesn’t need to be completely removed from a program; it just may exist in a different format – like more repetitions with lower weight, vs. fewer repetitions with more weight.
Anna also reminds older exercisers to be aware of their cartilage. “As we age and become arthritic,” she says, “the cartilage in our joints, especially our knees and hips, becomes more susceptible to stress, so there comes a time where a high-impact workout routine needs to be toned down to more low-impact activities.” For example, she explains, instead of running, consider walking on a treadmill with an incline, or taking up cycling.
Each person, regardless of age, will have different fitness goals. Older exercisers may simply want to be able to take a vacation and walk long distances for sightseeing, or to make their day-to-day tasks less painful. If your current exercise regimen is starting to cause you pain, or if chronic pain is causing problems daily, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about starting an exercise program to improve your strength and balance without causing further pain.
Want to find a physical therapist to develop an exercise program as you age?
Search for a Physiquality clinic in your neighborhood.
Anna Dark is the Fitness Director of the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. Anna holds a B.S. in nutrition and food science from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is also a Certified Personal Trainer.
Hunter Joslin is a lifelong surfer and the creator of the Indo Board, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Hunter is a well-known fitness expert in the surfing community and credits Indo Board with his quick recovery from hip surgery.
Wayne Seeto, OT, MSPT, is a Master Instructor Trainer and Rehab Specialist for Merrithew Health & Fitness™, another Physiquality partner program. He is certified to teach their STOTT PILATES® Rehab program and is sought after internationally for private and professional instruction.
Lee Spieker is the founder and CEO of Railyard Fitness, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Lee has a long history in developing exercise programs for the consumer market, including the original 13 “Buns of Steel” workout videos; the Aerobafloor, the first exercise floor surface, and the stackable Aerobic Step; and the TherapyZone physical therapy product line.
For further information, look through our selection of articles on aging well, in addition to the below links:
Chapman, Sandra B., Sina Aslan, Jeffrey S. Spence, et al. Shorter term aerobic exercise improves brain, cognition, and cardiovascular fitness in aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, November 12, 2013.
MedStar Health. Agility exercise for ACL: Lateral shuffle. YouTube.com, October 24, 2013.
Reynolds, Gretchen. Ask Well: Exercises to prevent dementia. New York Times, April 25, 2013.
Stokes, Trevor. Pool exercise may build strength, reduce falls. Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2013.
Hanc, John. Work out, but know your limits. New York Times, September 11, 2012.
Kelly, Janis C. Bone health improved even by a little physical activity. Medscape, August 17, 2012.
Dougherty, John, Anne Kancel, Cassandra Ramar, Crystal Meacham and Steve Derrington. The effects of a multi-axis balance board intervention program in an elderly population. Missouri Medicine, March-April 2011.
Sparkes, Ryan and David Behm. Training adaptations associated with an 8-week instability resistance training program with recreationally active individuals. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, July 2010.
Kibele, Armin and David Behm. Seven weeks of instability and traditional resistance training effects on strength, balance and functional performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, December 2009.
Train 2 Move. Exercise of the week #30: Rotational stork walk. YouTube.com, September 17, 2009.