Flexibility key for the elderly, no matter what level of fitness
Senior exercisers often fall into one of three categories: Lifers, second-time-arounders and first-timers
Mary Ann Kluge is an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Kluge holds a doctorate in gerontology with a focus on health promotions.
In other words, she's an expert when it comes to the elderly and exercising.
She talks about the three groups. Lifers, she says, have been anal-retentive about their lifting for years. Instead of a tombstone, lifers want a 45-pound plate that reads, "Just a little rest before my next set." Second-time-arounders
were once proud exercise enthusiasts. They used to be able to lift trains, leap over tall buildings, dodge bullets and so much more.
Then there are the first-timers, the folks who have thought gyms were medieval torture chambers and that a dumbbell was a pain-inflicting instrument.
"(Lifers) have issues and concerns, typically overuse injuries," Kluge said. "But they come to exercise with good confidence."
For the lifer, exercise, both resistance and cardiovascular training, should be about maintenance and flexibility. Lifers already are strong enough, however, like many resistance and cardio enthusiasts, they lacked the drive to continue flexibility exercises.
Lifers should continue with their present exercises. Those are, I hope, exercises that have 8- to 12-repetition sets, two or three sets per exercise and at least five exercises per workout session.
Lifers should add flexibility/stretching exercises because, over time, range of motion naturally decreases. Lifer, if you're not stretching (and I know most of you aren't), start now. Fifteen to 20 minutes of daily stretching will do wonders for your body.
"They could have two ways to approach (exercising again)," Kluge said. "One could be, 'Oh this is so much fun. I'm glad I have time to do this again.' Or they could be gauging themselves on a past self. 'Oh gosh I feel slow. Wow, I used to be able to shoot ball. I can't even do that anymore.' "
This type of exerciser likely will encounter a mental block: Maybe they were a great tennis or soccer player 30 years ago. That was another lifetime.
Understanding that and working past that will be huge in sustaining a fitness program. And don't rely on old knowledge, because much of what was in vogue 30 years ago has been updated. Work on gaining strength. Don't try to be a power lifter.
When starting, resistance exercises should be done with body weight, i.e. push-ups (regular, on knees, against a counter or against a wall); lunges and squats (holding on to a chair for support). If you have access to a gym, machines are a great way to start.
Just like the lifers, don't forget those 20 minutes of flexibility work!
Folks in this group need to think one word: "mobility."
"So many people . . . don't even have an awareness of their body in space," Kluge said. "They have been so out of it for so long."
First-timers need to gain strength, too. But the early part of their program should focus on regaining and sustaining mobility. First-timers can do these exercises: power steps (leaning forward and "catching" the fall); stepping up and down an 8-inch step; standing and balancing on a cushion and leaning to all sides, in a circular motion as the feet remain stationary. More challenging mobility exercises can be done with therapeutic balls, Bosu balls and physiorolls (peanut-shaped exercise balls).
There are more exercises for the elderly than I can possibly list in this space. Human Kinetics, a company that publishes fitness books, has several noteworthy books on the subject: "Fallproof!" by Debra J. Rose, "Exercise for Frail Elders" by Elizabeth Best-Martini and Kim A. Botenhagen-DiGenova, and "Functional Fitness for Older Adults" by Patricia A. Brill. Look for Human Kinetics at www.humankinetics.com.