What Are We So Afraid Of?

fear

I was working with a client earlier today who qualifies as an older adult; she is one of those folks who comes to the gym but says that “it is not really her thing.” She cannot really understand why people do it…and if it weren’t for her husband, I don’t know if she would be there at all. As we were discussing this topic (not for the first time), her husband chimed in, stating that the reason why he works out is to avoid “the walker.”

Older adults who do work out are motivated by a number of factors. For some, they really enjoy it–especially the social aspect of being at the gym. For others, it is just a habit that was picked up earlier in life. And for others, it is motivated by fear. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

A recent study commissioned by the home healthcare company, Home Instead Senior Care Network, surveyed older adults about their biggest fears. The top 3:

  1. Losing Independence.
  2. Declining Health.
  3. Running Out of Money.

Losing independence is complicated, because it can actually be a result of #2 and #3. Other research I have seen shows that the biggest fear is loss of cognitive function; they dread a body that still works and mind that is no longer there. This would certainly result in loss of independence. In any case–especially in the USA–independence is a core value and it is not surprising that we fear losing it as we get older; we do not want to have to rely on others.

Declining health is also complicated. It’s not just about dementia, but about being incapacitated, in pain or greatly impaired. Older adults envision a retirement or later life filled with activity and enjoying the well-earned fruits of one’s labors. It is understandable that we fear that our health may rob us of these things.

Finally, running out of money–also complicated. Many adults have not provided adequately for retirement, even though they think they have. With seniors living longer and longer, what might have been enough money even ten years ago may be underestimated today. No one knows what the status of Social Security will be, but the system is being stressed with more seniors and a declining birthrate. Never mind leaving an inheritance, we worry that we won’t have enough for medicine, food and housing.

So, should we live in fear? The good news is that it is almost never too late to begin addressing these fears. This leads us back to my client; the choices we make today will affect what our later years will look like. An hour or two at the gym can be the difference between independence and having to rely on family, friends or “the system” later in life. While it is true that there are certain medical conditions that we cannot anticipate, many of the health issues in our society are the result of poor lifestyle choices. We can always improve our diet, our exercise, not too mention quitting smoking and limiting our alcoholic consumption. Running out of money? If we take care of ourselves now, we decrease the likelihood that chronic and devastating illnesses will hit us later on; this not only has health implications, but monetary ones as well.

FDR said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Each of these fears can be addressed. We do not need to let them scare us into inaction; on the contrary, they should spur us to the kinds of activities that will help us avoid the things we fear the most.

We are living longer. Let’s not approach older adulthood with fear. Let’s face it with a sense of bold optimism!

HIIT for Seniors?

A little reminder

What it is HIIT? It stands for High Intensity Interval Training, which means working out at a lower intensity for a given amount of time, followed by working out at a higher intensity for a given amount of time, in a cycle. For example, a person could walk for two minutes, run for 30 seconds, walk for two, run for 30, etc. HIIT has gotten a lot of hype because the research shows that it is an efficient way to work out.

HIIT now encompasses many modes of exercise. There are HIIT aquatics classes, weight training, and cardio applications. The results are that one can get the same benefit as a regular workout, but in a compacted amount of time…and the benefits can continue for a while after the workout ends. Research shows that when we raise our heart rate significantly, we can continue to burn calories at the higher rate for several hours. That is efficient! And that explains the popularity.

But is it OK for seniors? AARP ran an article on this topic last year: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/high-intensity-interval-training-workout.html. Being a trainer “of a certain age,” I clipped out of the bulletin and took it into the gym, figuring I’d give it a shot.

For many of my hour-long sessions I start out with the beginner’s HIIT suggested in the article: 3 minutes low intensity, 20 seconds high intensity, 2 minutes low, 20 seconds high, 2 minutes low, 20 seconds high, and then 2 minutes of low–for a total of 10 minutes. Of course, how to do HIIT with seniors will differ with each person. A couple of my clients have advanced to the point that we now do 30 seconds high intensity at each interval. Depending on their ability, balance and agility, I use walking on the track, elliptical, NuStep, or a stationary bike. It is sometimes scary at the beginning since many seniors are not used to “pushing it,” for fear of a heart attack, or because they’ve been told that they are too old for that intensity of exercise.

Trainers and seniors alike should be cautious, but from my experience, HIIT can increase cardio capacity, affecting both endurance and power. As my clients progress, I will continue to tweak the formula. Although skeptical at first, I am a believer in HIIT for older adults when done appropriately. I have seen the results myself!

I’m a certified Functional Aging Specialist!

Readers may recall that I attended the IDEA Personal Fitness Conference – East at the beginning of April in Alexandria, VA. My main reason for going was to do the all-day training for the Functional Aging Specialist Certification. It was a great training (and I got CEC for it), but still needed to take three on-line exams in order to be certified.

I hoped that I would be able to pass all three by the end of April, but wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. Being laid up after foot surgery left me with more time on my hands so I decided to be productive. Many hours of reading and watching videos and I passed the last exam today! With four hours left in April!

As I blogged about earlier, FAI is in the forefront of fostering better practices and research in the realm of fitness for older adults. The focus is less on building muscle strength and more on working to keep older adults able to do the things they want and need to do. In other words, we address the wants and needs of our clients in order to keep them functional and independent. There is a greater emphasis on building muscle power (which helps with getting out of a chair or going up the stairs) as well as improving balance and reactivity time.

This will be very interesting for me since this is such a diverse population. Every senior presents with a different fitness and health history; there are 60-year-olds who cannot walk without assistance, and there are 80-year-olds running marathons. This kind of training requires more intense planning and specialization based on getting to know the client really well.

I will keep you posted on how this part of my “business” progresses. In the meantime, I look forward to a little celebration of my accomplishment!

Another reason why Seniors should be Weight Training

In all my courses, we have been taught that working out–and especially weight training–is good for individuals at any age. Current trends are aimed at getting the 50+ crowd to understand the importance of resistance work along with cardio exercise.

I am currently recovering from foot surgery and will be unable to walk for four weeks. I have a scooter and crutches; they are tools, but they cannot perform all the functions necessary to get around. Thank goodness I have been working on building muscle strength over the years. I have found that I can balance on one foot for a while (thanks yoga!), push and pull myself up, hop around my car to get to the scooter in the trunk. It is the difference between having some independence and none at all.

This is an argument that should be made to seniors. Weight training isn’t necessarily about have a killer beach body; we need the strength to help us navigate the Activities of Daily Living. And when we do find ourselves with an injury, hopefully the hard work of resistance training we have put in will allow us to compensate for our deficits (in the long- or short-term).

As someone who has never had to rely on devices to help me ambulate, I have learned a lot in the last few days. I get why we have extra-wide handicap spaces. I get why we have ramps. The ADA has gone a long way to making public places accessible. If, however, we lack the basic strength to make use of these accommodations, what is the use?

We are never too old to lift weights. Muscle degradation does not need to be in our future. Seniors: get off of those treadmills a few times a week and get to the dumbbells! You’ll be glad you did.

WSJ: Forget the Hotshot Trainer with the Six-Pack, Boomers Want Mature Fitness Coaches

This is the title of an article that appeared yesterday (April 8, 2019) in the Wall Street Journal. The article by Hilary Potkewitz notes that seniors are going to the gym in record numbers; at the same time the demand for trainers in their 50s and 60s is going up. The article contains some statistics as well as a lot of anecdotes about this trend.

I know that many of my clients are on the “senior side” of things, and part of what attracted them to meas a Personal Trainer is that I am 50+. I understand what an aging body feels like. I know that the vast majority of seniors are not as interested in what their bodies will look like at the beach or pool this summer as they are about their ability to carry out the activities of daily living (not that a killer bod wouldn’t be appreciated!).

On a pretty regular basis clients tell me about past injuries, aches, deficits in strength, etc., and in many cases I can relate because I have been there. Hernia surgery, check! Achilles tendinitis, check! Plantar fasciitis, check! Not only can I relate, but my recovery experiences help me to understand what exercises are effective and which aren’t.

This is not to say that a younger trainer might not be a good listener and even know how to do corrective exercises; there are many out there who are better than I at that. What it does say is that there is a kind of kinship of fellow travelers as we age and we think about our fitness, our jobs, our families, and our goals.

Of course, this is all good news for me and for the fitness industry. Fitness is not just the domain of the “hotshot trainer with the six-pack;” those of us with a little wear and tear have just as much to give…often with a dose of well-earned wisdom!

Functional Aging Specialization


At the end of last week, I had the opportunity to attend the IDEA Fitness Conference East in Alexandria, VA. In particular, I went to participate in the pre-conference training to receive Functional Aging Specialist Certification presented by Cody Sipe, PhD.

I had never been to a Personal Trainers Conference before and was not sure what to expect. The Conference East is the smallest of their gatherings so it was a more intimate crowd. My workshop on Thursday had between 50 and 60 people–ranging in age from 20s to 60s. I was afraid I might be the oldest one there (at almost 56) and the one who is newest to the industry; luckily, neither was the case. I actually felt that I fit in…which is a good feeling.

The focus of the day was to prepare us to pass the certification exam to become Functional Aging Specialists. What is a Functional Aging Specialist? The approach, which seems somewhat intuitive (but really isn’t) is to train seniors (50+, but more likely 65+) not by simply having them do cardio and strength training that simply works different muscle groups. Instead, the approach is individualized to each client based on their specific needs and wants. Needs: assessment can reveal where there are deficits like difficulties with balance, sarcopenia, poor reactivity, etc. We train with a program that specifically addresses the deficits. Wants: listening to the client can reveal what they would like to be able to do–be able to complete a 5k run, participate in a travel adventure that will require hiking, being able to get up the stairs without pooping out, etc. Again, we can train using a program that will help them to reach those goals.

The next few weeks will be filled with studying so that I can pass the exam. I know that this can be a great niche for me in a sector of the fitness world that is growing at a very fast pace.

Additionally, research shows that many seniors do not want to train with a shredded 20-year-old; they want to work with mature trainers who understand themselves how our bodies change as we age. More on that topic later this week.