Ramping Up Senior Fitness
SFA president Janie Clark, M.A., was asked to
write an article for Parks & Recreation, the official publication
of the National Recreation and Park Association. The publisher requested
information for recreation managers who are considering offering a
senior fitness program for the first time. In addition to general
programming ideas, they were interested in what types of features to
look for in strength training equipment. Following is Janie’s article,
reprinted by permission of Parks & Recreation magazine and the
National Recreation and Park Association:
Perhaps your facility is planning to
launch a senior-specific exercise program. Or maybe you'd like to infuse
new life into existing services to ensure their continued success.
Following are some suggestions on how to start or ramp up your senior
Offer Sound Activity Choices
Physical activity does not have to be
conventional exercise to provide important physiological and
psychosocial benefits. Good examples include senior sports leagues and
various types of dance including ballroom dancing, square dancing, folk
dancing, and line dancing. Although a complete physical fitness program
must include certain training components (cardiovascular endurance,
muscular strength, flexibility, and balance), any element lacking in a
greatly enjoyed activity can be pursued separately.
Fitness for older adults can take one of
many forms. Senior personal training is on the rise. Meanwhile certain
forms of group exercise have proven ever popular among older adults,
including aquatic fitness classes, tai chi, gentle yoga (which takes
special care not to overtax the joints), low-impact aerobic dance, and
fitness walking (which can be performed indoors or out depending on
terrain and climate variables).
One offering that may help to get
sedentary seniors in your door is chair-seated exercise classes. Other
forms of exercise that have gained favor among older adults in recent
years include balance and stability training (sometimes referred to as
fall prevention), circuit training (which can feature aerobics, muscle
strengthening, or a combination of exercise modes), and senior-specific
The range of viable activity
possibilities is broad. Develop programming consistent with the physical
attributes of your location, your faculty's areas of expertise, and your
clients' needs and preferences.
Use the Right Stuff
Successful aerobic conditioning
can be conducted without the use of any equipment, and effective
strength training can be achieved using inexpensive exercise
accessories, such as dumbbells and resistance bands. Facilities with the
budgets and space to do so may also elect to provide strength machines
or endurance equipment like treadmills, steppers, and stationary cycles.
The following excerpts from American Senior Fitness Association
publications, reprinted by permission, provide some considerations for
choosing machinery well-suited for use by senior clients:
Equipment selection should take into
account space constraints, weight limits on the workout floor, and the
number of participants exercising at the same time. Too many machines
crowded together can result in an increased risk for stumbling or
Exercise stations for seniors must safely
and comfortably accommodate persons of different sizes and heights.
Therefore, all of your exercise machines need to be fully adjustable to
body size. Be wary of extremely low-priced products. They may be
lightweight models that will wear out quickly given heavy use.
Regarding endurance equipment for
seniors, timers are useful for preventing over-exertion. Immediate
access to large, clearly visible stop buttons on motorized equipment
must be available to both trainer and participant. Recumbent versions of
certain aerobic machines are ideal for many seniors.
Guard rails may be needed for equipment
on which clients must stand. Convenient, easy-to-secure safety belts and
harnesses often prove indispensable to clients with balance problems.
Equipment with turbines and fly wheels should have protective guards to
prevent fingers, hands, or feet from getting caught.
Regarding strength training for seniors,
it is essential to start low and go slow. Strength equipment
should permit the client to start out with minimal resistance and
increase it by small increments of 2.5 pounds or less.
Variable-resistance machines will adjust intensity according to the
degree of muscle contraction, providing optimal resistance throughout
Certain strength machines are liable to
compel a senior exerciser to work beyond his or her safe range of
motion. This may apply to participants with arthritis or other joint
problems, so they need close supervision by the trainer. Some equipment
products can be adjusted so that a subject's range can be limited and
controlled as needed.
A resistance training program with
strength machines might utilize the following equipment:
extension/leg curl equipment for quadriceps and hamstrings;
adductor/abductor equipment for inner and outer thighs;
stations for calves and shins;
machine largely for the gluteals;
“Pec deck” for
machine for the abdomen;
station for a major portion of the back;
apparatus for the shoulders; and
and triceps extension equipment for upper arms.
Additionally, strength equipment
targeting the forearms may be used. While beneficial for many seniors, a
few stations (for example, neck or lower back machines) may be
inadvisable for others. Obtain medical clearance specific to the
particular piece of equipment when any doubt exists as to an
individual's potential tolerance or response to the type of training
Create a Safe, Inviting Environment
In planning for senior fitness,
you need to take stock of your facility's amenities and policies. Below
are several factors that are involved in establishing and maintaining a
proper senior exercise setting.
A senior-friendly facility is clean and
permits easy access to entrances and exits, as well as to restrooms and
drinking water sources. Indoor temperature and humidity levels are
regulated. The floor surface minimizes exercise impact on the joints and
any risk of tripping (for example, a wood floor with air space beneath
is good for aerobic dance activity; cement or thick carpeting is risky).
Lighting and room layout mitigate age-related declines in vision and
balance. Acoustics and sound levels optimize hearing, and music
selections reflect clients' tastes.
Procedurally, an operative emergency plan
must be in place, and signed medical releases must be obtained from
senior participants' physicians. In addition to standard forms prepared
by the facility's legal counsel, each client should complete a lifestyle
and health history questionnaire and take part in an interview process
to formulate an individualized fitness plan. New clients should undergo
an initial functional fitness appraisal (for purposes of goal setting
and program design), which should be repeated periodically to track
progress and ensure ongoing benefits.
Employ Appropriate Program Facilitators
A physical activity leader must
take these steps to ensure a proper exercise session for older adults:
thorough warm-up period;
correct training methods with respect to mode, frequency, duration,
intensity, format and sequencing, technique, and indicated exercise
exercise intensity and each client's exercise response during
training, adjusting the activity as needed;
thorough cool-down period.
Senior fitness leaders should be
certified in both adult CPR and basic first aid. Older adult fitness
participants have an elevated risk for bone fracture, hard-to-control
bleeding, diabetic emergency, heat injury, and other mishaps that may
occur during training. First aid proficiency is mandated by national and
international senior fitness professional curriculum guidelines. It
should be required by employers for these reasons, as well as for
Among other areas of specialized study,
physical activity leaders of older adults should complete training that
of aging, including models of healthy aging;
fitness training guidelines and exercise safety measures;
adaptations for diseases and health concerns prevalent in senior
precautions in connection with commonly prescribed medications; and
of aging, including communication issues as well as ethnic and
Provide Something Special
Receiving a little something extra
can mean a lot to current and potential fitness clients, and supplying
it will distinguish your program from others. Providing clients with the
royal treatment, comfortable social opportunities, and intellectual
stimulation, including health education, helps promote exercise
adherence. Make it rewarding and interesting to keep your patrons coming
back. Here are several ideas to improve the experience for the aging
visitors and new clients feel welcome. Make introductions and follow
a helpful orientation routine. Enlist a veteran participant to be
the newcomer's "exercise buddy" for a time.
clients an informative newsletter.
after-class mixers featuring healthful, easy-to-chew snacks. Even
short get-togethers provide a beneficial social outlet.
adults are attached to a beloved pet. If practical in your venue,
try a bring-your-pet day.
guest-experts in to speak on topics like good nutrition, stress
management, and smoking cessation.
Team up with
local medical providers to host a senior wellness fair or health
send out a trainer on small-group training calls. This allows
neighbors on fixed incomes to share the cost of personal training,
and it also overcomes transportation obstacles.
programming, such as fitness conditioning for better golf,
self-defense for seniors, or an arthritis-specific exercise class,
which can also serve as a valuable support group.
discounts, slow-time-of-day discounts, bring-a-friend incentives, or
Remember, you need to keep your senior
fitness program safe, effective, and engaging to be the best!