Fitness & the Aging Population – Risk & Rewards – Part II
As I examine the landscape of the future, I see the potential for a reversal of our current challenges because of the contributions of many diverse groups and forces. The greatest challenge we face of course, is that of the millions of baby boomers arriving at 60 in the next 20 years – and beyond! The differences in the generations before mine – and now – are grounded in the lifestyle we lived prior to the technological “revolution” of the past 20 years. The “sitting of America” began about the time my daughter Lisa was graduating from USC in 1993 and as she said to me years later, hers was the LAST class of journalism students to use typewriters! Computers, the internet and telecommunications have revolutionized our society for sure but it has all come at a terrible price – our health and future well-being!
The notion that there is a “pill” coming “down the pike” that will save us from ourselves and the obesity crisis is nonsense of course but people are continuing to pray – and hope – for that “magic pill”. My generation will quite possibly be the last to outlive our children as evidenced by recent studies that state that children in our current lifetimes will NOT make it beyond their parents because of the “self inflicted” wounds of poor choices and lifestyle habits that will yield a “tidal wave” of diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer and so many other examples of PREVENTABLE causes of early death. We have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to turn things around – and it still may NOT happen in my lifetime- whatever that may turn out to be!
The questions we MUST ask potential clients during the assessment interview range from medical concerns, medication use, injuries, illnesses, limitations, surgeries, joint problems, lifestyle issues, stress, work, and family history among the factors we have to consider before recommending a program to them that meets their goals – and needs. When I worked with seniors I often found their knowledge of these and other issues “wanting” – meaning that the physician who recommended they start exercising had failed to inform and educate them as to their best options prior to speaking to a trainer. On many occasions I had to send potential clients back to their doctors for further evaluation and recommendations so that I could safely proceed with designing an exercise program that was truly tailored to meet their immediate needs. Just as often, however, they never returned for a follow-up consultation because I had (by necessity) overwhelmed them and inadvertently discouraged them. I disliked this outcome intensely and always felt that the fitness professional was becoming the “dumping ground” for patients who had NO business starting an exercise program on their own – unsupervised – in the misguided hope that exercise alone was going to “fix” whatever “ailed them”.
Today I see a world that is “disconnected” from the reality of what IS possible in the world of fitness. There are countless numbers of people “out there” who are afraid – or too overloaded with negative emotions – to access the many benefits of a “fitness lifestyle” and its corresponding gifts. The job ahead for each of is to take the person “in front of us” one step at a time through a ‘transformational process’ that encompasses the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual (where appropriate of course) aspects of life as IT CAN BE for the client – ONE choice at a time. Here is my simplest advice for everyone: “Eat a salad, drink water, and take a walk” – EVERY day. Do we do this? NO! CAN we do this? Of course we can! You can also answer that question easily because for US, training is a way of life! The training I am recommending for seniors – or the “aging people” as I have called them in the past – is simply more – and safe – physical activity than they are now doing (activity that they will ENJOY and DO – the best exercise for them), a positive attitude about eating HEALTHY food and its enjoyment, proper hydration, and proper rest. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It IS! Is it EASY? NO, it is not, because as you will remember what I said earlier in this series about change – even SIMPLE, clear cut changes can be daunting and difficult to embrace because the “known” always outweighs the “unknown” – even it WILL help me! We need to PREPARE for change every day we are alive because “change is the only constant in the natural order” and it CAN make a huge difference if we embrace it willingly and with a positive attitude.
What “should” we recommend to the aging population? Cardiovascular exercise in some form will always be a part of the program. How much and at what intensity is determined by many factors we are all familiar with as fitness professionals – physical, medical, experience with particular forms of exercise, and time constraints among other factors that need to be considered when making recommendations to the client. The strength issue troubles me the most. Age brings with it a “cascade” of physical effects and problems – loss of lean mass, joint and connective tissue damage, weight gain (loss), chronic and acute diseases and their lingering effects, medications and their many side effects, and mental and cognition issues – and balance – (especially balance) that take time and repetition to address and solve. Many seniors NEVER wanted me to put them on the floor for exercises such as abdominal work because they were so unsure about getting back up again! The program designed for flexibility and balance issues can be time consuming and tedious for the client. It takes energy and creativity on the trainer’s part to maintain a compliant and happy client during these times for sure! If the proper foundation has been laid in the beginning of the relationship, the client WILL be prepared for the inevitable plateaus and difficulties that arise along the way. This is where TRUE coaching and support comes in for the trainer.
My clients all responded to me because I attempted “to be with them” for every session we were together – no distractions were allowed! I was with them because I always attempted to “stand in their shoes” – if even for a moment – so that they KNEW I was there “for them” no matter what the challenge was because we would face it together. The successes come more slowly as we age but they DO come and people are to be rewarded, recognized, and praised when they try their best and succeed. This is where the “feeling” I referred to earlier comes in – the feeling of achievement, conquering the unknown with courage and dedication – a process to be applauded and celebrated! This is our role in the new order of things – to play our part in a world “gone mad” through unhealthy choices and unconscious behaviors that have threatened our very existence! I KNOW we are up to the challenge because we KNOW what it takes to thrive and win in our OWN unique way in the world of the fitness professional!