By Bonnie Sprinkle, AFAA & NABF Certified Personal Trainer
Modern fitness marketing gives the message that it must be fun and exciting to keep us interested. “Ditch the workout and join the party”, “Just do it”, “No pain, No gain”, have been popular slogans. A popular ladies circuit shows everyone having fun with little regard to form or effectiveness. The group is spending time going through the motions, but are lacking the understanding of how to work those muscles. How much fun is exercise if it only produces results in the beginning stages only to soon plateau out? How many times have you gone all out for a few weeks only to totally give up? Wouldn’t it be much better to start off slowly, gradually increasing exercise time and difficulty and still be enjoying it a year later, or 20 years later, or for a lifetime?
Some say that staying motivated is tough to do. I feel that all depends on how you look at health & fitness. Viewing fitness as a project that you can complete, will lead to discouragement. If only we could work hard, try your best, complete the steps, go though the motions and have the weight loss or fitness success desired. Advertising & marketing says you can change in 30 days, totally transform in 90 days and so on. You’ve seen the before and after photos. They portray happy exercisers wearing perfect outfits playing “Eye of the Tiger” music in the background. In TV land anyone would benefit from their product, everyone should join the crowd and go for it. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing what is right for you, what would give you the results you desire? The extreme measures taken in the popular TV shows is a perfect example of exercise that is good for an athlete or very fit person being done by people who haven’t exercised in 20 years. They always feel a great deal of accomplishment and are further motivated, BUT did it benefit them for the long-term, I believe not. Actually I think it will lead to undermining true health due to giving the perception that these extreme methods are needed or even good for most people. Regardless of what the contestants want, the trainers, producers and doctors associated with the show should know better. They show sixty year olds doing the same exercise as 20 year olds… really! Beneficial, probably not. These people deserve a quality program with knowledgeable trainers. Giving these contestants a slow, steady progression of exercise, time, weight & intensity, with proper rest days would produce a much healthier outlook with life-long changes. But come on now, that would be a really boring TV show, no one would watch it. Instead they exercise six or eight hours a day, day after day, losing tremendous amounts of weight. Again I must add at what health risks? And for what purpose? To only gain it all back because it was lost through unhealthy methods. So what, it made for good TV, made some TV executives rich. A few former contestants have spoken out but the power of this show and the networks have quieted them, for now.
Speaking of knowing one’s limits and what is beneficial activity, here’s a good one for you. At this time last year I was contacted by the producers of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s then upcoming reality show “Tough Enough”. They were recruiting contestants to try out to be the next new WWF wrestling Champ or Diva stars and wanted me to try out. Of course, I turned it down, knowing I couldn’t do it, I may be fit, but I’m not that fit. Maybe it would have been fun, I would have excelled at the ropes course, raced up the hill with a heavy bag, crawled through the mud; but getting slammed to a mat or flipped over someone’s head in the ring, I think not. Could I take Stone Cold in my face screaming “Are you tough enough”? No I couldn’t take it either, I’d cry like the little girl I am. It takes knowing what you are tough enough for and working with expanding on that. Doing wrestling flips and throws could have handicapped me forever, just to prove I’m fit. Nope not this girl. It came out in March and ran 6 episodes and will be back soon for another season. Now when I force myself up that big hill, I hear Stone Cold Steve’s voice saying “Are you tough enough” and I say to myself yes I can make it up this hill, because I’ve been training for it, because I’ve built up to doing it over a long period of time. First couple of weeks out it was one quarter of the way, then half way and so on until building up to the distance and intensity that it is now. Then winter happens and I move into X-country skiing, when spring rolls back around, it’s time to start over again gradually building up biking strength.
If you view fitness as a journey, a way of life, something you enjoy; you will want to do it forever. If you view fitness as a destination; something you’ve GOT to do, get it over with so you can move on it will become just another chore.
As we become older balance, strength and flexibility play an even more important of our life. Without them independence is limited or lost. While it is never too late to begin an exercise program, the sooner the better. The ageing process begins younger in life than many think. Once adults pass physical prime in their twenties, they lose lean body mass every year. This is mostly in the form of muscle & bone. Since most people gain almost two pounds of body fat per year, the few ounces of lean tissue lost is not noticed on the scales. Few people notice this process until they find it difficult to get off the sofa or to climb stairs. This gradual loss of muscle and bone is the main reason aging adults eventually have difficulty performing the tasks of daily living and eventually lose independence. This process is not an inevitable consequence of aging but a consequence of disuse. The old “use it or lose it” philosophy.
The baby boomers are now 47 to 64 years of age. Many being the most youthful group of seniors or near seniors ever. Some say sixty is the new 40 and fifty is the new 30. For many of my generation we are that, but I also see many of my peers living the life of an elderly person. Being a boomer shouldn’t equal being elderly– especially since I’m a boomer myself at age 59. Life shouldn’t be one health disaster after another and many conditions could be prevented or at least better managed. Quality of life, the ease and enjoyment of living, isn’t that something we all want?
The average boomer has at least one chronic health condition that could be improved or managed with exercise. Let’s move on to those who are 64 and beyond. Many people in this age group are experiencing chronic pain. Their doctors are recommending lifestyle changes, promoting better eating combined with moderate physical activity.
Regular exercise can give relief in the fight against chronic pain and can:
1. Prompt the body to release endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relievers and help alleviate anxiety and depression.
2. Builds strength—and the stronger the muscles & bone density, the less of a load on the joints.
3. Increase flexibility, increasing range of motion, that can help relieve aches & pains.
4. Improve sleep quality, giving the body better rest
5. Boost energy, giving a person more energy to cope with chronic pain.
6. Help maintain a healthy weight, which results in less stress on the joints
7. Improve mood & contribute to an overall sense of well-being.
The dramatic improvements in flexibility, strength and endurance are remarkable in most senior citizens. It seems that the more inactive or de-conditioned a person is the more dramatic are the improvements. Many times common back, knee or shoulder issues are improved through a balanced exercise program that addresses each participant as an individual. This takes into account the many differences in each person.
Community group exercise programs are readily available for little or no cost and are a wonderful way to get exercise but do not look at individual special needs. A better option for the inactive boomer or senior might be a guided program with a certified personal trainer specializing in special needs of the aging. Many of our area physical therapy offices, hospitals and gyms offer these types programs. The knowledge gained could then be supplemented or replaced by a group strength and balance program. While aerobics or walking might be a good, free and available way to exercise, many seniors find that difficult to do due to knee, hip or back issues. However that same individual may be able to sit on recline bike with back support or sit and do stair climbing on a seated machine, progressing to other activities. Giving themselves the ability to strengthen muscles and improve ability to actually climb stairs or go for a walk with less discomfort. Improving lower body strength is the single most modifiable risk factor for fall prevention because of the resulting improvement in balance. Upper body strengthening is equally important and can play a huge part in headaches, shoulder/back discomfort and more. Just a little fine tuning can produce amazing results.
Those are just some of the aspects of how exercise can improve the quality of your life. Strength, flexibility, balance and energy are huge factors in determining your independence and quality of life.