“Am I too old to start an exercise program?” A very simple answer is NO. It’s never too late. In fact, there is evidence to suggest choosing not to partake in an exercise program at an older age, can accelerate the physical deterioration effects that are commonly associated with old age such as brittle bones, loss of muscle strength and condition and joint stiffness.
Re-tuning your body
- In sedentary populations from the age of 50+, muscle size and strength can deteriorate by 15% per decade and as much as 30% from 70 years upwards
- Loss in in muscle size and strength can attribute to an inability to perform daily tasks such as standing from the sofa, climbing stairs or carrying shopping bags
- Loss in muscle condition can lead to decreased balance and stability therefore increasing the risk of falling over and causing injury.
- Implementation of a structured exercise program can help rapidly decelerate the aging process and recondition your muscles to allow for greater balance, strength, coordination and endurance.
- Muscle wastage is reduced which reduces the risk of injury.
- Multi-joint compound movements such as squats and rowing movements are thought to provide the greatest benefits, in improving muscle strength and coordination as multiple joints are being worked simultaneously.
- Strength-based training can also aid in reduction of body composition – stronger muscles exert more force output therefore burning more calories.
Hardening of the bones
Just like muscles, bones also degenerate over time and lose density and hardness, becoming brittle and more susceptible to fractures. This term is more commonly known as osteoporosis.
- Bones can be reconditioned to become stronger and more resilient to the everyday stresses placed upon them.
- Provided that they are subjected to progressive loading of the structures, through the use of resistance training and low impact cardiovascular exercises such as walking the bones will regain strength and durability.
Improving joint function
Another common side effect of aging is joint stiffness. As mentioned earlier with bone density and muscular conditioning, joint flexibility can decrease with age and lack of use.
Including developmental stretching as part of your exercise program will be absolutely essential to help regain some of that lost movement.
Stretches should be held for around 30 seconds as often as possible. It is important that any stretching is performed within a pain-free range of movement to reduce the risk of injury.
As you get older your metabolism will slow down, therefore you will not be burning as many calories at rest as you would have been 20 years ago. This reduction in expended calories can lead to increases in body fat as you will not be as efficient at utilising calories that you consume on a daily basis, therefore they will be stored as fat.
Low intensity cardiovascular exercises such as walking or gentle cycling can prove vital in order to burn excess calories and avoid unnecessary weight gain.
The use of cardiovascular exercises can also help recondition vital organs such as the heart and lungs and prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease.
Designing an exercise program for older clients
When designing an exercise program for older clients, the emphasis should be on developing a balanced exercise program that contains; resistance training, cardiovascular endurance and stretching/mobility training. Additional consideration should be given to the following elements:
- Exercise Selection
- Rest and Recovery
Exercise should be enjoyable and recovery manageable. The little and often approach should be highly emphasised when designing an exercise program for older people. It is important that they are able to exercise frequently at lower intensity than exhausting themselves 1-2 times a week. On a scale of 1-10, exercise intensity should be kept to a manageable 5-6 out of 10. This would be considered ideal.
2. Exercise selection
Compound exercises would be considered ideal such as squats or chest press, where you are working several different joints at once, therefore improving strength across various muscle groups as well as co-ordination. When prescribing resistance training exercises, muscular fatigue should be gradual – 2-3x 12-15 reps within a pain free range of motion would be sufficient. The implementation of plyometric or jumping exercises would be deemed inappropriate for the majority of older participants as this can cause joint discomfort or even injury.
Low impact-based exercise such as walking or gentle cycling or even rowing where the joints are not subjected to repeated impact for a prolonged period of time would be ideal. Cardiovascular exercise will allow for the production of synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant to the joints and therefore allow for a greater quality of movement.
Cardiovascular exercise will improve heart and lung function therefore allowing for greater oxygen consumption and energy levels during exercise. It is recommended that 10 minutes at the beginning of the session as a pulse raiser prior to resistance training is considered sufficient.
The use of flexibility and mobility training at the end of sessions is essential in order to develop a balanced physique. As one muscle group is regularly trained, it can become tense and tight therefore causing over-stretching of the opposing muscle group and risking injury, so it is important to improve range of movement in the muscle groups that are being used regularly. The use of mobility training is also important to increase range of movement in muscle groups that have become stiff due to misuse. It is recommended that holding a stretch for 30 seconds is ample to improve mobility in the affected areas. Flexibility training can also be used away from the gym due to its low intensity and requires no equipment therefore it can and should be implemented more frequently for greater range of movement.
3. Rest and recovery
Older clients do not recover from exercise as quickly as younger clients therefore allow for plenty of rest and recovery between sets, particularly if you haven’t exercised in a while. Ensure you take a rest when you need to and begin the next set of exercises when you feel ready. You will have the best perception of your level of fatigue, so don’t be afraid to rest.
- You are never too old to begin exercising! It can be enjoyed and the benefits can be many.
- Exercise can delay the physical effects associated with aging.
- Strength training can massively reduce the incidence of falling and balance related injury and decrease the risks of osteoporosis.
- Regular exercise should be prioritised over exercise intensity – “little and often”.
- Exercise for older clients is similar to that of anyone beginning a new exercise program – ensure you take exercise intensity and joint degeneration into account.
If you are new to exercise or lack confidence and feel a little unsure of where to start then our Ladies Beginners Fitness program could be a perfect fit for you.
Take a look at it here: Summer’s Out Program