Goal for Senior Exercisers FUNCTIONAL FITNESS!
by Leonard D. Therry
Len owns Len’s Home Fitness Studio, Inc., a one-on-one, appointment only training studio in Berlin, MD that has strength training, cardiovascular programs, indoor cycling, and golf conditioning programs. He is a specialist in training older adults and, in addition to Personal Training Certifications from ACE, AFAA, AFPA, and NSCA, he also holds specialty certifications in training older adults from SFA, AIFE, and AFPA as well as indoor cycling certifications from Madd Dog Athletics (Star 3 level instructor, the highest), and Schwinn Fitness Academy. For more information and consultation scheduling, Len can be reached at (410) 208-9773.
As seniors, we are the fastest growing segment of our population. We know from our own reading and the badgering from our physicians that we should follow a healthy diet and undertake physical exercise. However, just what kind of exercise is best for us? Few, if any of us, are interested in being competitive body builders or athletes (although Senior Olympics might hold attraction for some). Of course, before beginning any exercise program, you should obtain approval of your physician.
The real goal and current wave for senior exercisers is that of FUNCTIONAL FITNESS. Functional fitness helps to reduce the risk of many major diseases and illnesses. It refers to a level of strength, endurance, cardiovascular efficiency, joint flexibility and balance that enables us to carry out our activities of daily living (ADLs) effectively. These include such things as the ability to dress, move on our own, feed ourselves, carry out unassisted toilet functions, etc. As seniors, we want to maintain our full functions and preserve our independence. Although we love our children. most of us would prefer avoid their having to care for us unless our declining health makes this unavoidable.
Functional fitness helps us to preserve our independence and capacity to pursue, not only our activities of daily living, but also our hobbies and sports. We want to be better golfers, tennis players, and recreational cyclists. We want to pursue our passion for hiking, gardening, and picking our grandchildren up for hugs and kisses.
In order to do this, we need not spend hours in a health club, fatiguing ourselves by pushing extremely heavy weights or sweating until exhausted on the treadmill or stair climber. Far less is required for maintenance of functional fitness. When we analyze "fitness" we look at several components: cardiovascular efficiency (the body’s ability to effectively deliver oxygenated blood to the skeletal muscles via the heart and lungs to sustain our activity), muscular strength (the ability to apply muscular power to a movement), muscular endurance (the ability to sustain force over time), and flexibility (the capacity to move body limbs and joints through a full range of motion). These elements, combined with balance and coordination, are what we try to preserve as seniors. Without exercise, all of these essential elements of functional fitness will decline as we get older. But it is our INACTIVITY and not the piling on of the years that is to blame.
Much of what was earlier commonly thought to be the natural and inevitable result of the "aging process" is now understood to be mostly the negative result of a sedentary lifestyle. So, it is not as much a question of "Oh well, I am just getting older" as it is "Darn, I sure am getting lazy…". The words "Move it or lose it" and "Keep moving or you rust" are far truer than we would like to believe. My newest favorite saying is "If you have a moving part, MOVE IT!" We can expect to live much longer than our parents and grandparents and the fundamental question is: Just how vigorous and independent will we continue to be? Others have noted "We are adding years to our Llfe but are we adding life to our years?" Although genes have an influence on lifespan and health, proactive measures relating to healthy nutrition and exercise have equal or greater importance.
But how much exercise is sufficient and what kind? Here, basically, is what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association. For muscular strength and endurance a disease-free sedentary adult needs to use strength training at least twice per week, one exercise each for each major muscle group to include legs, back, chest, shoulders, arms, and abdominal muscles. Lift weights approximately 8 to 15 times, gradually working up to 70% to 80% of your one repetition capacity; that is, a weight that you could lift only a single time. It is recommended that a very sedentary individual begin at an even lower level and gradually work up in intensity. The strength training session need last only about 30 minutes.
For cardiovascular efficiency, it is recommended that one work up to at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise on most days. The exercise can be almost anything that will gradually raise heart rate and can include walking, bicycling, and many other activities, in or out of a health club setting. Sedentary adults can begin with as little as 40% of estimated maximum heart rate and work up to a range of 50% to 85%.
At least in the initial conditioning stages, employing a certified trainer is highly recommended. The trainer can help establish safe goals and get you started on the right path by designing a program with the proper volume, mode and intensity. A trainer will teach you how to monitor your performance, using a heart rate monitor or your own "Rate of Perceived Exertion," to establish and keep you within safe but effective limits. You should work progressively as your conditioning (established by baseline testing and evaluations) improves. Every effort should be made to make your FUNctional program as much FUN as possible, by relating your exercises directly to your interests and goals. There can be programs specifically designed for golfers, tennis players, etc. For those who enjoy bicycling and want to do their first "century" ride (100 miles), for example, a program can be specifically designed to prepare you for the next annual Seagull Century Ride. There are cycling touring companies that bring people from across the country to ride on Maryland's Eastern Shore rural roads. There is no finer flat land cycling conditions anywhere in the U.S.
In as little as 6 to 10 weeks with a weekly investment of just 3 or 4 hours, you should notice a change in your energy level, appearance and even outlook. It is understandably easy to find reasons not to embark on a functional fitness program, but the benefits are so great that it makes sense to bite the bullet and just do it. It is never too late to join the fitness revolution.
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