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CindySays: Exercise should evolve with aging

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,

In my exercise center, I am seeing more and more older people working out, which is great, and wish my parents were active like those I see. I am about to turn 50, and I wonder what kinds of programs there will be when I'm their age. I would love to think I'll be as active when I am 70 or 80. Are there specific things I should be doing to give me a head start on this? -- Sandy

Dear Sandy,

The number of older adults interested in becoming active is rapidly multiplying. When you consider how Baby Boomers are feeding directly into this market, it's easy to understand why these silver-haired health seekers give the fitness industry plenty of reason to study the mature market.

Fitness -- coming of age

The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association says older adults make up about 23 percent of all fitness memberships. The Medical Fitness Association reports they account for 43 percent of all hospital wellness center memberships. This is obviously a demographic that deserves attention, and may explain why the American Association of Retired People and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently studied health behavior in the older adult, as it relates to physical activity.

Marketing to the mature

The studies sought to answer two key questions: What motivates older adults to be active; and what barriers in their lives keep them from being physically active. The groups believe this information is extremely valuable and could help guide the fitness industry toward appropriate programming and messages that could entice the hearts and minds of older adults. After all, this is not a one-size-fits-all demographic.

The senior market represents a wide range of experiences. Millions of stiff joints and mended hearts are making their very first appearance in a fitness arena with exercise veterans who have been active all their life. For seniors to exercise successfully, the experts must appreciate and be sensitive to the demands and special needs of each individual. That is why these types of findings will influence how physical activity, and all it encompasses -- equipment, programming, training modalities -- is promoted to older adults.

Age vs. lifestyle

Not surprising, an important conclusion of the AARP study was that older adult training should not be based on age but rather on lifestyle. This is the main factor to consider when creating and/or tailoring their physical activity. Some older adults are active with few or no limitations while others are completely opposite.

Hedging the market

Sandy, if you are searching for ways to remain fit as you age, the advice would be to remain fit. Sounds simplistic, I admit, but this is achieved by adhering to a training regimen that is suited to your physical capabilities. You should be challenging your body while working within your comfort zone.

Don't continue to perform activity that causes pain. Your prescription for exercise is not about being 50, 60 or 70, it's about regularity and addressing the four primary components that support and help maintain a healthy frame and a clear mind. They are:

Cardiovascular conditioning: For many older adults, this includes water-based aerobics-aquatics classes, water walking or low-impact on land -- treadmill, elliptical, etc.

Strength training: Upper- and lower-body resistance work with weights, tubes, bands and bodyweight that challenges the muscles, but does not put joints at risk.

Flexibility: Moving the joints through their full range of motion and including mild stretching after activity when the body is warm.

Stress management: Relaxing the mind as well as the body by making a conscious effort to carve out personal quiet time.

People have a tendency to believe they should do the same training for life. This is the most common misstep because when they realize they can no longer tolerate it, many stop exercising completely.

The reality is we all need to allow for exercise evolution as we age. It can still be challenging, but it needs to leave us feeling better, not worse. Thankfully, you can expect to see more and more exercise variety for Boomers and older adults that will keep you fit and strong.

Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or email cindysays@aol.com. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.


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