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Exercise And Ageing – The Keys To Success

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If you are completely unaware of the benefits of exercise to your overall health and quality of life, then you’ve either been living under a rock for your entire existence or you’ve got selective ignorance syndrome. (Not actually a real thing… in case you decide to google it)

However, lack of awareness and understanding are not necessarily the issue. The issue lies in the gap between knowledge and action. And, as we grow older, this gap seems to get wider and wider, so much so, that in Australia, less than 20% of older adults meet the recommended daily activity guidelines.

For older Australians, it can appear as though the health and fitness industry has forgotten them. Take a look at the advertising used for most fitness products and services, or better still, just visit many of the mainstream gyms and you’ll see what I mean. 

There is nothing wrong with classes full of lycra clad fitness models or weights rooms packed to the rafters with sweaty, muscular, athletic types, but this is generally not the type of environment that many older adults would call welcoming.

After more than 15 years in the industry, the last three of which have been dedicated to running my own service that exclusively caters to over 50s, I know what works and what doesn’t. 

If we want to get more than 20% of our older Australians exercising more regularly, we need to create services that are specialized, social. sustainable, and supportive. 

Specialized

Exercise programs and services should be designed to address the specific needs of their market. That said, the exercise needs and capabilities of 20yr old and a 60yr old are generally vastly different. 

As we age, our bodies become reflections of the kinds of forces we have, and haven’t, exposed them too. Our bodies were designed to hunt, run, climb, jump, twist, tackle, carry, lift, push, and pull. Most of us spend our days sitting down, which means we lose the function capacity to do many of the things we were designed for. 

So, when we decide it’s time to regain some of that lost Neanderthal man, we can’t expect to exercise like we did when we were at our peak. We need to find a program that addresses all the areas of function we may likely have lost, that also understands where we want to go.

Social

Retirement, changing family dynamics and living situations, and relationship breakdowns, are just a few of the significant life events that can lead to feelings of loneliness and social isolation in older adults. 

Additionally, research has constantly supported the link between group activities and improved mental and social health.

For higher levels of program adherence, enjoyment, and benefit, exercise programs and services for older adults need to have the social element as part of their DNA and one that is openly nurtured and encouraged.

Sustainable

For older adults, good exercise programs need to address all areas of physical fitness such as strength, aerobic conditioning, and core stability, whilst also emphasizing elements such as balance, posture, breathing, mobility, spatial awareness, and coordination.

This is why walking on its own is not enough. Nor is only doing Yoga or only doing Pilates. 

Programs for older adults should be designed and delivered as though they are the only exercise program that their clients will need, to continue to live the life they love. 

Supportive 

There are many barriers to exercise for older adults. Lack of confidence, fear of injury, lack of experience, are just a few.

Exercise programs and services for older adults need to ensure that as many of these barriers are addressed as soon as someone walks in the door. 

Flexible programs, welcoming environments, and experienced staff are a must for all good exercise services, especially those for older adults. 

Deafening top 40s music and big clanking weights machines may not be the best option here.

Alliteration aside, the four S’s provide a roadmap to getting more older adults exercising more regularly. An active and healthy ageing population is good for all of us. Reduced impact on the health system, greater social and familial connectedness, more experienced workforce…. and my personal favorite, better grandparent/grandchild relationships.

 Van Marinos is an Accredited Exercise Scientist and Founder of over 50s gym, Community Moves Health & Fitness in Sydney, Australia.

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