I put the photo above in as an example of an exercise I wouldn’t give an older person…or any person for that matter because it puts an undue loading on the spine – but it does depict older people exercising. Being in the older person category myself ego would tell me that age doesn’t matter, but I am not the average older person as I have exercised vigorously all my life. But healthier still are those people whose lifestyle has kept them active throughout their day therefore they don’t need a formal exercise program although for most of us who have a reasonably sedentary lifestyle doing some sort of formal exercise is a must if we want to keep mobile and healthier as we age. More and more studies of late have shown that doing a resistance program is the best mode to do this.
So looking at some specific considerations for older people who want to start a resistance program –
- Firstly it is important to put older people through some simple tests and before that a series of questions about their lifestyle up until the present. Specific questions about any limitations they have, any surgery they have undergone, any medications they are taking and any type of exercise they have done throughout their life are a start. I always like to take a client’s blood pressure and then take them through a range of mobility tests (both Static and some through ranges of movement). Even simple squatting and lunging movements tell me a lot but one test that tells me far more about how a person moves is a ‘lizard crawl’ because it highlights a person’s coordination and as to whether they have any hidden issues that cannot be seen in simpler movements. With all this information you can build a far more reliable picture of a person’s status than questions alone.
- If someone has had some health issues such as strokes or heart attacks, or that they are quite immobile the best exercises to do are in mediums that they are supported, such as water or in sitting and lying positions but I like to get them on their feet as soon as possible. One of the best exercises to gain leg strength is a supported squat where a person holds on to a secure support such as a doorjam and starts just bending their knees slightly while holding onto the support. They slowly build depth in the squat as they gain confidence and strength. This is a great exercise to do at any age if someone has lower limb weakness and if performed throughout the day helps with maintaining mobility for the elderly.
- For someone who has not done a lot of exercise and it shows, I start them with simple movements such as the one above but important to build confidence by working one body part at a time – so Squats, Lunges, Press Ups from the knees, Reverse Row (all these exercises examples of using two limbs together).
- In the next phase I get them to work on exercises that only use one limb at a time such as One Leg Squats, Step Ups, and One Arm Presses and One Arm Rows. Again the movement is limited but there is an added element of balance.
- In the third phase I get them to do exercises that use the whole body and that are closer to natural movements such as a Lunge/Press or a Step Up/Forward Dumbbell Raise. Both of these examples use controlled slower movements but there is arm elements of coordination and balance.
- In the fourth phase I add in movements that add the element of speed such as Jump Burpees. There are many other movements that add this element but I would like to emphasize that for resistance programs for the older people, it is an important element that I aim to introduce into their program as it helps resisting the onset of Osteoporosis. So any exercise that involves jumping is essential when someone can cope with it. There are other exercises such as the Turkish Get Up that is my favorite exercise to add into someone’s resistance program eventually. For older people who have been active and who don’t have any health issues, I add these elements into their programs a lot sooner.
I have purposely not given many exercise examples in this Post because I want to emphasize the phases within a resistance program for older people but you can find many examples with my other Posts. I also haven’t discussed nutrition or rest because they are topics by themselves but are essential in the success of resistance programs and again you will find some ideas in my other Posts. By using phases within a program I endeavor to build a person’s confidence and show them the only true limiting factor is their desire to succeed or lack of it?
I would like to go back to one of my first statements in this Post about age in that it is not a true factor. It is the other limiting factors people of any age possess that are of far more importance?