August issue South Shore Senior News

By Maria Burke, RN, Owner, Celtic Angels Home Health Care
Co-authored by Josh Mavilia, Personal Trainer

Maria: What types of fitness exercises would you recommend for the senior population?
Josh: I think the most common misconception is that folks who are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s need to do ‘different’ exercises, but that’s just not true. The truth is that when we develop fitness programs for seniors, we make sure we incorporate all aspects of the body. For instance, we always include lower body, upper body, and core work in our programs. From there, we can break these categories down into smaller segments like upper body pulling versus upper body pushing and so on and so forth. The same is true for lower body and core or abdominal sections.
We use movement patterns that work for the person. For instance, many people in the senior population have joint replacements or old injuries that they have to work around. Maybe they don’t have full knee range-of-motion because of a knee replacement. We’ll still use some sort of squatting exercise, but customize the range of motion. Or maybe we’ll substitute a different exercise altogether that gives us the same benefit. We choose exercises based on what an individual needs, wants and preferences. We use the word contraindicated. There are no contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated individuals. The same would go if we had a 20-year old person with a knee issue. We’d work around it with a different range of motion or different exercises altogether.

Maria: Are there certain exercises that should be avoided for people older than 50 years of age? If so, which ones?
Josh: Same answer! There are no contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated individuals. Folks need exercises that are customized to them personally. We take all that into account when we develop a customized program because we want someone to get the most bang for their buck and tossing out entire exercise categories might leave them with less benefit than they could have gained.

Maria: Why should someone over the age of 50 exercise and move throughout the day?
Josh: Everyone should move throughout the day. I think the answer here is sort of two-fold. First, movement throughout the day is one of the most important factors to weight control. Age-related weight gain is largely related to changes in movement patterns, as well as job changes, so we like to see someone moving and exercising to help reduce that. The second thing is that exercise and movement are what help keep our bones and muscles and cardiovascular system strong. This helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases both short-term and long-term. And it’s never too late to start. The body is constantly changing and adapting and even though things might change a little bit more slowly for someone who’s 60 versus someone who’s 20, things will still adapt and you can still get stronger and build muscle and feel better.

Maria: What are some of the health risks by staying sedentary, for example, sitting more than a few hours a day watching television?
Josh: A sedentary lifestyle carries the grave risk of both metabolic & cardiovascular issues as well as musculoskeletal disease. Everything from high blood pressure to heart disease to diabetes to osteoporosis to joint problems to muscle loss to just nagging pain in general can be linked to a sedentary lifestyle.

Maria: How many times a day should a senior exercise? How many times per week?
Josh: People should be moving every day. I think the guideline for a while was 10,000 steps, but science is starting to show us that 15,000 seems more appropriate. You’ll feel better and sleep better and you’ll control your weight better, too. As far as exercises goes, I like to see people engage in some type of strength training at least twice per week, maybe more. Three or four times seems a little more optimal to really see results. Of course the more you exercise the better generally speaking, but a good rule of thumb is anywhere between 2 and 5 times each week depending on your preference.

Maria: Tell me about any success stories you’ve had with your senior clients that came to you with a physical challenge and were able to overcome it?
Josh: I think, in general, one of the biggest successes I’ve had overall has been showing people with certain limitations that they CAN workout and work around those things that would otherwise be a challenge for them. For example, one of my members has a condition that makes it difficult for this person to feel their feet and know where they’re placed and sometimes putting too much pressure on their feet is painful. So right away this eliminates a lot of lower body movements, but it’s still important that we somehow achieve a training effect for the lower body (hips, legs) so instead of doing a lot of squatting or deadlifting like we might typically do with someone we use a lot more split squatting & lunging and kettlebell swings. Instead of the bike, we use the rower because your feet are strapped in. And then we do all the regular upper body and core stuff that we could normally do like pushups and inverted rows and dumbbell stuff and planks. This has worked amazingly and this member has been able to increase their strength and athleticism to the point where they were able to hop over a small wooden fence one day and told me the entire story with a huge smile on their face.

Maria: What are you feelings about doing Yoga for the elder population?
Josh: I’m not a yoga instructor so I can’t answer this one 100% as well as someone who is, but I know that there are a lot of different types of yoga and I’m always a fan of anything that gets someone moving. I think as long as the teacher can include and adapt movements that challenge folks, as well as allow them to succeed, any mode of exercise can have a certain benefit. The nice thing about yoga is that it incorporates strength, breathing, and flexibility all into one workout.

Maria: What are the advantages and disadvantages for a senior to do fitness and exercise at home versus in a gym? In a group at a community center?
Josh: I think the closer you can move to 1-on-1 coaching, the better. Working alone in your house doesn’t give quite the same benefit as working out with a group, and working out with a group and a teacher in a class, provides excellent, safe instruction. There are loads of well-written exercise programs out there, but many of them require some sort of equipment and they all probably have exercises that you aren’t familiar with. It’s always smart to invest in some sort of coaching because you don’t know what you don’t know and a coach can help fill in those gaps.