By Jeff Howard | Photos by Erin Trimble
Model: Mark Eliason | Location: The George
What do you think about when you hear the term “senior?” I don’t even know what it means anymore, and regarding fitness, I believe there is no limit on what an individual can do. I look at my own classes and the demographics that come to them. The ages vary from 17 to 85, and they are all prescribed the exact same exercises and format. Granted, movement and intensity may vary, but this is due to many variables: fatigue, decondition, injury, obesity or just not feeling it. But none of this is due to someone’s maturity of age.
Technically, senior citizens are classified as anyone who is 65 or older, although many of us can attest to the fact that you can begin receiving certain senior discounts as early as 50 (not funny, AARP The Magazine). But age is just a number – isn’t it?
I reached out to a few of my colleagues and asked which exercises they do and do not recommend for senior citizens. All of them came back with the same answer: It depends on the individual.
Many studies have shown that exercise is good for people of any age and can ease the symptoms of many chronic conditions. And contrary to popular belief, weakness and poor balance are actually linked more to inactivity than age. One size does not fit all when it comes to fitness for those of us heading into or already basking in our golden years.
We always advise that regular exercise or activity offers great benefits, the most important of which is that it will extend your lifespan. Sadly, only one out of four seniors work out regularly.
But as I’ve reported in the past, when we become more mature, we start to lose muscle mass. This, in turn, makes us more vulnerable when we fall and break bones. So, how do we get muscle mass back? We need to do resistance training and cardio movement. This doesn’t mean lifting heavy weights in the gym. In fact, we need to lighten up, unless that’s what you’re used to. It doesn’t mean you have to jump around either. We just want to work out our muscles so that they’re responsive.
We also have to know that when the body matures, it challenges our balance. Our fast twitch muscle response slows down and our reaction skills tend to be slower. Being active and exercising helps with all of this, and the best part is that it also helps the mind. With activity comes oxygen, and this is essential to our brains’ well being. According to the article “7 Benefits of Exercise for the Elderly” by Sam Wylie-Harris, seniors can benefit from exercise in other ways as well, including a reduced risk of developing dementia, the prevention or delay of disease, better bone density, increase in confidence and independence and more.
I have designed a workout that is safe and effective for anyone to try but especially for senior citizens, whom I will now refer to as “active agers,” which sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it?
Before you start, correct your posture by making sure your ears are over your shoulders, your shoulders are in line with your hips, your hips are over your knees and your knees are over your ankles. Also, remember to listen to your body and do what feels comfortable to you because one size does not fit all.
Active Agers Workout
What you will need: a chair or bench, hand weights and water.
Each exercise will be 16 reps done three times. Take a break in between each rep. This routine can serve as your warm up or your workout.
Go for a warm-up walk for 5-15 minutes. Take a break when you need one.
1. Chair squats
Start by sitting with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your quads and gently lift your body upwards towards a standing position. This is a great starting point for everyone since we use this activity every day and it works the entire body, including the core, legs and glutes.
2. Chair squats with abdominal work
Start in a sitting position with your hands joined behind your head and your elbows facing forward. Then, lift your body upwards. Extend your elbows to go to either side of the room.
3. Squat unassisted
Start with your feet hip-width apart, bending at the knees with hands reaching behind. Lift your body upwards with hands coming overhead. For a progression, come up and dip to your toes.
4. Walk forward and back
Starting with your feet hip-width apart, take a step forward and then take a step backward. A progression would be to do it at a rapid pace.
5. Jacks for everyone
Standing with your feet hip-width apart, step out to the side of the room with the opposite hand going towards the sky twice. Repeat on the other side twice. For a progression, add two jacks, taking both feet together at the same time with hands coming overhead for two reps.
Make your hands wider than your shoulders by placing them on the wall and taking a step backward. Lower your body towards the wall and then push back up. Make sure the hands are in line with your chest. For a progression, put your hands on a bench, lower your body towards it and push back up.
7. Bicep curl
Stand with your feet hip-width apart with hands by your side. Bend the elbows and repeat. For a modification, do this seated.
8. Lateral raise
With your feet hip-width apart and hands by your side, using a hammer grip, bring one arm up to shoulder height. Rotate your hand so the fingers are facing the floor. Repeat on the other side.
9. Single arm row
Put one knee on a chair or a bench so your lower back is protected. Pick up a weight in one hand to start and lower it toward the floor; then gently bend the knee and elbow upward toward the ceiling before lowering to the floor. Do one set and then repeat on the other side.
10. Tricep overhead extension
Start with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands overhead. Lower your hand towards the floor and then push it back up toward the sky. For a modification, use a single weight.
11. Single arm kick back
Start with one knee on a bench or chair with your hand on the bench or chair to support your lower back. Try to have your body in one line from your glutes to your head. Start with the elbow up by your side. Extend the elbow behind you and ”kick back” behind. Do one set then repeat on the other side.
12. Reverse fly
Sit with your feet hip-width apart. Make sure your gaze is looking where the floor meets the wall. Start with your arms together underneath your legs. Lift the arms upward to your sides. Try not to let your hands go higher than your shoulders. Concentrate on squeezing your scapulas together.
13. Crunch with a pelvis tilt
Lying on your back, start with your knees bent and feet on the floor to protect your lower back. Take your hands behind your head, cradling your head, and bring your chest up towards the sky. Once that is complete, lie with your head on the floor and tilt your pelvis upward. Releasing your lower back, do this for one set. If you experience discomfort in your neck, use a towel to cradle your head and neck for support.
*Before you start any kind of exercise routine, please check with your doctor.