The American Senior Fitness Association presents Experience!

November 16, 2007              

Table of Contents
  • Exercise Motivation 101 (Advice from an experienced program provider)
  • Motivational Considerations Worth Emphasizing (Senior fitness participation)
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Exercise Motivation 101

In writing the following article for other SFA professional members, Linda Dohnal shared numerous insights gained as a successful exercise business owner. Her words will also provide inspiration for laypersons seeking to stick with their fitness programs! It is reprinted by permission of the Senior Fitness Bulletin.

Motivational Considerations Worth Emphasizing

Woman ExercisingCertain motivation-related issues should remain uppermost in the minds of fitness professionals as we strive to promote increased physical activity among older adults and previously sedentary exercise candidates.

Everyone knows exercise is good for your health, but only a small percentage of Americans are faithfully doing something about it. Obviously, those of us in the fitness field aren't doing an optimal job at getting our message across on a psychological level. We need to start motivating, not intimidating!

Avoid forbidding-sounding technical language. For a long-sedentary person who is about to start an exercise program, even the term "aerobic" may seem intimidating. Some would-be exercisers have little idea what this word means by definition, and their fear of the unknown could keep them from attempting to learn about it. We live in an era often called "politically correct." With that in mind, perhaps a phrase such as "heart-healthy fitness" would be a better choice of words. Our terminology should serve to encourage a can-do mindset in adults who are in the planning-to-start-soon phase of an exercise program.

Once the new exerciser forges ahead with a basic program, terms such as "aerobic" and "anaerobic" can be introduced, but only after the participant is comfortable and successful regarding his or her initial efforts.

Offer clients choices and options. Some articles and advertisements stress that there is only one "best" form of exercise (such as cross-country skiing, for example, or the workout provided by one particular exercise machine or another). But limiting individuals' choices, as these ads and articles tend to do, only serves to discourage some beginners. The end result could be a person who chooses to stay inactive.

Therefore, we shouldn't arbitrarily narrow our clients' programming options. With respect to aerobic exercise, my position has always been that any heart-healthy activity that uses primary movers of the body for an extended period of time in a rhythmic fashion will suffice. As long as an adult finds an activity that he or she will do on a regular basis, that fits into his or her lifestyle, and that meets the aforementioned criteria, then that activity qualifies as "the best" activity for that particular adult.

Examples of such activities can be as simple as walking at a steady pace while using the arms to help propel one's body. Walking up an incline or in the sand can increase the intensity of the exercise without causing discomfort or injury for most participants. Even vigorous house-cleaning (such as mopping, vacuuming, dusting, making beds, doing laundry, moving furniture, and washing windows) can qualify as "the best" heart-healthy activity, although it may not be the most fun!

The point is, adults need to learn how to fit heart-healthy movement into their lives. Once they begin a regular activity program, they will soon feel better and, in time, may explore alternative training choices.

Develop user-friendly exercise plans. Authors, lecturers, and fitness leaders frequently share information on the F.I.T. principle with the general public. F.I.T. is a handy acronym that represents important program planning ingredients: "F" for frequency, "I" for intensity, and "T" for time (or duration) of an exercise session. However, we need to be careful about how we present exercise recommendations to the inactive public. Inflexible interpretations regarding the application of the F.I.T. principle may lead some beginners to view exercise as an overwhelming task.

In the 1990s, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a "lighter" exercise prescription designed to get Americans of all ages moving. Dubbed "Exercise Lite," its prescription was for healthy adults to become more "physically active over the course of most days of the week." Bouts of physical activity could be undertaken in short, somewhat moderate energy "spurts" of 10-minutes' duration -- a few times a day -- to meet the 30-minute exercise goal set by previous guidelines. Gone were the stringent "minimum consecutive minutes in your target heart rate zone" that had long been considered the only legitimate exercise standard by fitness professionals. Together, ACSM and the CDC are attempting to get Americans off the couch!

This clear and simple objective offers renewed hope to chronically sedentary individuals. If a person can maintain an activity for 10 minutes, chances are that he or she will hang in there for a bit longer, especially if the participant is feeling comfortable with the activity that he or she has chosen to adopt. By easing up on the rules, the fitness industry may induce more Americans to take those first steps that could ultimately lead them down the road to a lifelong habit of moderate-paced exercise.

As learned skills become conditioned behavioral patterns, the door opens for individuals to pursue other positive lifestyle behaviors that will push them to new levels of achievement. The confidence they gain through their accomplishments will inevitably flow over into all aspects of life. Fitness professionals can play a major role in motivating persons to become more physically active and helping them discover it isn't as difficult as they had imagined it to be.

Recognize important motivational factors. Many older adults are motivated to start a regular heart-healthy exercise program when they see opportunities for social interaction with others in their peer group. For some, however, physical outcomes (such as the minimization of pain and inflammation associated with arthritis) are a primary motivator.

Often, older adults are interested in avoiding commonplace accidental injuries that might compromise their self-reliance. In fact, by age 90 many women and a substantial number of men will have sustained a hip fracture, sometimes accompanied by devastating complications. Therefore, fall prevention is in itself sufficient motivation for some aging exercisers. Fitness professionals who aim to motivate, not intimidate, should assure prospective participants that it is never too late to start a beneficial exercise program.

Aerobics, strengthening exercises, and balance training are essential to meet key physical training goals. Additionally, an often-neglected fitness component -- flexibility -- becomes increasingly important as we age. For an older adult, maintaining functional flexibility can mean the difference between staying independent or becoming dependent on relatives, friends, and long term care institutions.

It is unlikely that the biological processes associated with aging are responsible for major declines in flexibility. Instead, the loss of this fitness component is more probably due to disuse and atrophy. Just as bone density and cardiorespiratory fitness can be improved in older persons, flexibility also can be enhanced at any age through exercises that promote the elasticity of the soft tissues. Motivation-oriented fitness professionals should spread this good news and should develop creative methods to actively assist their clients in preserving or restoring flexibility. For example, simply by using a towel to extend range of motion, one can facilitate gentle and effective stretching for joints that have grown stiff from underuse.
Older Man Exercising
In conclusion. More and more these days, older adults are coming to be looked upon by our society as having much to contribute. Indeed many have the luxury of free time, as their careers are behind them and their children are grown. If we as fitness professionals can help empower everyone, including ourselves, to age with pride, then both present and future generations will reap the rewards. Certainly, older adults don't want or warrant having the stigma of "burden" attached to their age group. Instead -- if we are younger now -- we should look to successfully aging adults as blessings and vital role models, for we are just a few years behind them ourselves!

Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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