A gym class for older exercisers

Mature people stretch after physical training. Photo U.S. Air Force

Mature people stretch after physical training. Photo U.S. Air Force

My personal trainer (oh that sounds pretentious) is soon to start a class for the over-60s. I must admit I have hassled her over this, with pep talks about growing the business, extending her client base, and the splendid loyalty of older people once we find a regular activity that suits our needs. Truth is, the strength classes that I had enjoyed had been cancelled, and I was longing for an appropriate class. I can’t wait.

While attending normal Crossfit classes, I began to analyse just how my needs differed from the other patrons. I’d guess the majority are in their 20s–40s, with one or two 50+. But I didn’t spot anyone else in their 70s at the time.

My friends over 60 were also unwitting case studies. My dance group friends all have their own programmes, because they are active, kinetic people. I see them swimming or aqua-jogging, or out walking, or off to Pilates or yoga or another dance event. I’ve been thinking about their needs and likes, as well as my own.

What I notice about older people exercising

  1. A wide range of abilities: they vary far more than do those of younger people.
  2. We need to work on balance to prevent falls. Tai Chi (for me), yoga for my friends.
  3. Stretching is crucial — and potentially painful— for people with arthritis.
  4. Getting up from sitting is a timed test of fitness for older people and a big problem with low soft chairs.
  5. My friend Jan runs an exercise group and every week they practice getting up from lying on the floor: this is a potential life-saver when old people fall. (The Feldenkrais corkscrew method is a cunning trick, but everyone is different.)
  6. It’s probably better to use hand weights than bars.
  7. It’s not essential to keep increasing weights. Lowering weights slowly can have even greater impact with older people (AUT research).
  8. Some (I) get dizzy from low blood pressure: so please, no exercises that require tipping the head or sudden head movements, no fast spurts of running, skipping, and OMG no burpees!
  9. Some (I) get dizzy from low oxygen intake: that’s different, and better breathing helps. I hope this will reduce as I get fitter 🙂
  10. Stress incontinence is common: so beware of making us skip and jump.
  11. Some older people need the option of doing exercises sitting down.
  12. Music: not loud (we hate that) — take it easy but no golden oldies from the 1940s please.
  13. KISS: keep instructions super-simple. None of that 2 x 200 @ 50%, 1 x 200 @ 75% 3 x 400 @ 90% business. Our short-term memory may be short but we have other qualities.
  14. I want to be pushed but not hurried!

Recent research on the impact of exercise on older brains and bodies

We older people get VERRRRRRY worried about Alzheimers and other cognitive decline so any research about how exercise reduces that risk is really encouraging. HIIT is all the rage at present, but of course we need a variety of forms. Bernard Levine’s programme sort of fits with what I aim to do. He sounds very sensible.

Do you like to exercise in a class?

Most older gym members seem to exercise independently, or with a group of friends, rather than attend classes. But I’m assuming, rightly or wrongly, that at least some people over 60 would would like to include an appropriate weekly class or two at the gym in their personal exercise regime.

Gym classes are not the whole picture. (I also love to dance and walk and swim, and sometimes I even embark on a feeble jog nowadays.) But a great gym class is a natty combination of supervision, structure, and socialising. Am I alone in this view?

25 thoughts on “A gym class for older exercisers

  1. Good analysis of what we ‘older’ folks like in our exercise program.

    1. Thanks!

  2. bone&silver says:

    As a Pilates teacher, I would also add that some older folk (myself included at 51) are managing specific injuries, so often need individual adjustments or modifications to suit them; a good exercise class offers a variety of adaptions.

    I also firmly believe that the class needs to be FUN; we laugh a lot, which is important, as people are nursing or mourning aged parents/sick friends etc- we are at a different end of Life’s scale than those young, ambitious, driven folk (and I’m very happy with that thanks 😊). Great post, as usual, G 😊

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You are absolutely right! Before starting a class, older people are usually given a questionnaire at the very least, to establish what our peculiarities are—
      and they are many. And the only good exercise is exercise that we enjoy so much we carry on doing it.

  3. Bernadette says:

    You have done a wonder analysis of the exercise needs of the post 60 crowd. I wish someone would devise a specific class that could be used in gyms and by videos. I don’t take classes anymore because they move too fast and the exercises are potentially dangerous to my joints.

    1. Exactly! Too fast, and too strong, and little allowance for individual difficulties. Take care.

  4. Dan Antion says:

    Good advice for anyone thinking of offering such a program.

    1. And I’m getting more good advice right here from those in the know. Thanks, Dan.

  5. This was both informative and motivating. Thank you.

    1. There is always a way, I’m sure, and we can do it.

  6. You summed it up pretty well. When my old gym closed, I went to a new one. It’s all equipment with a few classes but they appear to be for younger people. I developed my own routine but sure wish I had someone to oversee it. I did a piece of equipment that left me in pain for a few days (won’t do that again!). The time slot I go is mostly retired people. I’m not sure why they haven’t seized on that opportunity to incorporate some senior classes that would attract people. Our senior center has classes but they aren’t challenging enough for someone who is fairly fit. Good post!

    1. You are fit and highly motivated, yet finding it hard to find the right place and people. Just like me, you resort to DIY fitness — good in itself, but lacking a social dimension and supervision. I totally agree: surely it’s obvious that if retired people had a class, they would come. I also want something more challenging than the various senior classes available in my area. Here’s to a shift in awareness!

  7. That is a great post, with a perfect analogy of what we want and need. I would kill to have a class at our gym to fit those needs! I’m going to save this post, print it, and take it to our gym manager, and see what I can drum up! Thank you so much! ~ Lynn

    1. That is the best possible outcome for me and the ultimate reward for a blogger. Good luck and please keep me posted!

  8. speak766 says:

    Great post and helpful advice! Thank you for sharing!

    1. And thank you for responding.

  9. Glynis Jolly says:

    I’m an older person. I do exercise most days, doing mat exercises that younger people would probably use for stretching and walk 2 city blocks. I’d do more but my disability included mobility problems.

  10. You’re doing exactly the right thing, the best thing. Moving every day, walking every day, following a routine that suits you. And reaping the benefits every day as well.

  11. Val says:

    Some very good points here, Rachel, some of which I hadn’t thought of so I’ve bookmarked your post! One thing – I’d be hopeless at practising getting up from the floor as I can no longer get down onto it! 🙂

    1. Oh I’m glad you find it useful. Maybe practise getting up from sitting: that will help if the horrible day comes when we fall. In fact, getting up from sitting is a terribly important skill, isn’t it?

      1. Val says:

        So far, touch wood (where’s some wood to touch when you need it?) I’m fine getting up from sitting but my knees are very weak and I can’t get myself lower than a chair-height or my legs just give way. One day I must find myself a physiotherapist to help me put this right because I’m pretty paranoid these days about possibly falling when there’s nobody with me. It’s limited a lot of what I do.

      2. Yes, that’s a great idea, to get help from a physio. That way you will learn the exact exercises to strengthen your legs, which will bring back your confidence. I must admit I always take my phone when I’m up and out alone.

  12. bheemaray67 says:

    Inspiring the aged to adopt suitable exercises and to live a healthy life in old age.

  13. srbottch says:

    Rachel, I loved this post and will. Heck out the links. I hope you find my story (a few back), ‘The Bar Chronicles, With A Twist’. If you read it, I’ll give you a follow-up report )not a story, just an update). You won’t want to miss it.

    1. I have read it … awaiting the update!

%d bloggers like this: