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
- A wide range of abilities: they vary far more than do those of younger people.
- We need to work on balance to prevent falls. Tai Chi (for me), yoga for my friends.
- Stretching is crucial — and potentially painful— for people with arthritis.
- Getting up from sitting is a timed test of fitness for older people and a big problem with low soft chairs.
- 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.)
- It’s probably better to use hand weights than bars.
- It’s not essential to keep increasing weights. Lowering weights slowly can have even greater impact with older people (AUT research).
- 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!
- Some (I) get dizzy from low oxygen intake: that’s different, and better breathing helps. I hope this will reduce as I get fitter 🙂
- Stress incontinence is common: so beware of making us skip and jump.
- Some older people need the option of doing exercises sitting down.
- Music: not loud (we hate that) — take it easy but no golden oldies from the 1940s please.
- 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.
- 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?