Seniors have to overcome a few obstacles to exercise, but they are not about how much you can lift or how far you can run. The big obstacle is something that gets stuck in your head.
“The biggest thing I always hear is ‘I’m too old to exercise,’” says Andy Giordano. “I have to keep telling people, ‘You’re too old not to exercise.’”Giordano should know. He’s a Certified Personal Trainer (a designation conferred by the American Society of Sports Medicine) and an Older Adult Fitness Specialist (as determined by the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas). He’s also a Locust Point resident who works for the Baltimore County Department of Aging. Giordano’s job? To travel to various county senior centers to perform fitness assessments and offer personal training advice, and to teach seniors how to safely use the gym equipment in the centers.
And he notes, seniors in the city have options to get healthy as well, no matter how late in life.
The first step, he notes, “is something everyone should do before starting an exercise program, no matter what their age — they should get a doctor’s check and make sure there are no contraindications for exercise.”
After that, he says, it’s time to get started. Seniors can, of course, join a gym or hire a trainer, but if they want a low-cost and easily accessible option, “they can walk 15 to 20 minutes a day three times a week.”
Other at-home options to try are light dumbbells, as well as wrist weights, ankle weights or exercise bands.
“You can also use an exercise ball,” Giordano notes.
All of this type of equipment is available in stores such as Dick’s, Target, etc., as well as online. Those who buy equipment, however, should get professional instruction in order to use it properly, to prevent injury and to get the maximum benefit.
There are various goals in exercise, and says Giordano, “older adults need to concentrate on their range of motion.” Stretching exercises are particularly useful here.
Cardiovascular exercise is also important, particularly to weight control efforts, as is exercise that helps build muscular and skeletal strength, particularly for an people with osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones.
Weight-bearing exercises can be used to strengthen bones, he adds; weight-bearing exercise includes walking, possibly with light dumbbells to intensify the experience slightly.
Something else seniors should be thinking about: balance exercises, which can help prevent falls—which can cause serious injuries.
“Balance is a very important component, but it’s something younger people don’t necessarily think about,” says Giordano.
Exercise has multiple benefits, he notes, and the best of these is “It has no age limits and no boundaries.”
Remember to start gradually.
“If you stay within the boundaries of ‘Not too much, not too soon,’ you’ll be fine,” he says.
It is possible to overcome decades of a sedentary lifestyle, to lose weight, increase muscle tone and feel better overall.
Weight loss is what brings many people to exercise in the first place, and another health myth is that a thin person is always healthier. They may or may not be, Giodano notes, depending upon what they’re eating, whether they’re exercising and if their lifestyle includes healthy habits.
Oh, and for those who want to know: the extra weight? There’s no secret to losing that, either, no matter what an infomercial tells you. It’s a simple equation of calories in vs. calories out.
“You either have to reduce the amount of calories you’re putting into your body, or you have to increase the amount you’re burning,” says Giordano. “Count the calories you take in vs. calories you’re expending. Then burn more than you take in. That’s the secret for anyone at any age.”
by Mary Helen Sprecher