by Jim Ganley
Mature adults seeking improved health and fitness may find themselves in an impossible maze. First, there may be an assortment of underlying medical conditions which could be aggravated by exercise. Such problems become more prevalent with advancing years as well as exacerbated by poor lifestyle choices, poor diet, lack of sleep, emotional stress, depression, immunosupression, and alcohol abuse. Additionally, someone sedentary for several decades may be having to contend with disuse muscular atrophy, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle imbalances, osteoarthritis, gout, hypertension, heart and blood vessel disease, poor balance, an assortment of chronic pain syndromes, and lack of flexibility. Additionally, for the past decade we’ve been told that obesity has reached epidemic proportions. This creeping epidemic seems to have taken off at a gallop among the sedentary, with no end in sight.
Compounding things, there is conflicting information on how to mitigate the problem, as well as programs which fail miserably in addressing the existing situation. Trendy programs such as Pilates, Bikram Yoga, and Zumba will do little if anything to turn around lives spiraling out of control into a world of pain, indolence, disordered eating, and boredom.
The fitness industry could and should be targeting this demographic group. In some instances they have, but the results have been equivocal at best. For the most part, mature adults are ignored by health club staff. Fit individuals over age 35 are rare. Those who are fit, typically began exercising in their teens and have continued into their 40s, 50s, and beyond. Such persons do not exercise to live longer, prevent disease, or lose weight. They exercise and eat right because they enjoy it. Health and fitness are achieved as a byproduct of their passion.
What many fail to consider is the downside of senior fitness, the major negative here concerns being out of synch with one’s peers. Discussions of hemorrhoids, acid reflux, bypass surgery, constipation, chronic low back pain, expanding waistlines, multiple surgeries, and fibromyalgia have little meaning to the fit seniors, who tend to be left out of such small talk. Additionally, dating for the single senior may present a vast array of problems. Just as back alley pigeons do not mate with eagles, unfit men and women are a poor match for their fit counterparts.
Instead of featuring programs of productive exercise and nutrition education in the health club setting, we see mature adults trudging along on treadmills with the vim and vigor of men on the last leg of the Bataan Death March. Those seniors who have achieved a superior level of fitness are often regarded as strange or extreme. They too are avoided by health club staff, most likely intimidated by lean and fit elderly men and women who, in most instances, are in better shape than the club’s personal trainers. Many may feel erroneously that this is not supposed to happen, but it is an expected outcome when a well balanced program is followed by anyone, regardless of age.
In July of 2005 I was given a tour of a local hospital’s "Senior Wellness Center". Designed to serve those 55 years old and above, it was an eye opener for me on the existing state of the practice. The two staff people there were named Trixie and Shawna, both twenty something, attractive, but appearing as though they themselves have never trained seriously.
The gym area was a scene of complete chaos. The members were exercising with weight equipment in a blatantly unsafe, totally unsupervised manner. Shawna walked up to an elderly man, gave him a hug, and kissed him on the cheek. There were some minor pleasantries exchanged between the two of them before she moved on to tell me about the great programs taking place here. She extolled the benefits of their "chair aerobics" program, telling me that Trixie was leading the group as we spoke. However, when I made inquiry about being able to observe the class, Shawna became nervously ill at ease and told me that outside observers were not allowed in the class. To me it sounded as though she was guarding trade secrets, though there was nothing that I saw here which could have benefitted my business....or any other business for that matter.
Sadly, the specifics of a productive fitness regimen have been known for decades. It was in 1968 that former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, Dr. Ken Cooper, wrote the book Aerobics in which he laid the groundwork for setting up fitness plans designed to improve one’s cardiovascular function. He also devised a simple test for determining the current state of one’s cardiovascular system based upon the distance which one could traverse in 12 minutes. In the intervening years he established The Cooper Clinic in Dallas, TX which has the largest fitness data base in the world.
In the realm of strength and flexibility training there have been volumes published by luminaries such as Dr. Fred Hatfield, Dr. Bob Goldman, Bill Pearl, Bob Anderson, Dave Draper, Drs. Frank and Victor Katch, Frank Zane, Ken Hutchins, Dr. Ellington Darden, and Arthur Jones, to name only several. Say what you want about Arthur Jones, often derided as bitter and extreme. Regardless, he brought the value of strength training in athletics to the forefront, and via Nautilus Sports Medical Industries and later MedX, was able to make many aware of the overall benefits provided by a well structured strength training program. He had employed medical doctors to serve as consultants, and this gave more credence to his theories, 50% of which he freely admitted was wrong, though he could not tell us which 50%. The Nautilus Training Centers he established may have been on the correct path, offering brief, intense strength workouts which could be completed in less than 20 minutes three times per week. The drawback here was that one needed to be in superior anaerobic fitness prior to running the Nautilus "gauntlet". Many a new member of these clubs became violently ill when pushed to the limit by an overly zealous Nautilus instructor.
In the end, we need to understand that all of us have the rest of our lives to get this fitness thing down pat.
Integrity Health is a franchise company residing in New Hampshire. We specialize in health coaching centers combining fitness with weight loss to optimize and promote optimal health.