Creating an Effective Exercise Program for Senior Clients
Being inactive is a risky prospect for seniors. Studies show that most seniors lose the ability to do things on their own because they are not active, not because they’ve aged. A lack of physical activity for seniors may result in more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more prescription medicine to deal with a number of illnesses.
A number of studies have shown that staying physically active and exercising regularly can help delay or even prevent the onset of many diseases and disabilities, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. It may also boost the immune system and digestive system.
Regular, moderate exercise for seniors has been shown to elevate mood, manage stress, increase cognitive function, help battle insomnia, and even reduce feelings of depression. Exercise fights a slowing metabolism due to age by increasing metabolism and building muscle mass, which helps burn more calories.
Respect Your Client’s Physical Limits
Know what the limits are of the people who train with you. Know what is unreasonable to expect and also what is slacking off. You can’t treat seniors like 25-year-olds but you can expect more from them and help them to expect more from themselves.
Do a thorough assessment and a health history first. Look at how they walk and squat. Do they have issues preventing them from coming to the floor? What kind of surgeries have they had? Look at their mobility issues. Many seniors have had hip and knee replacements or their shoulders are stiff from lack of movement. You may ask your client to get a clearance from their doctor as well.
What modifications can you provide for each exercise? Not everyone, including 25-year-olds, is 100% physically ready to work out every single day. Some days we have it and some days we don’t. With older adults, this becomes exasperated by past physical issues. Sometimes you have to think outside the box with modifications.
Some clients want to do things themselves, like get up off the floor. They all don’t want your help. They want to feel self-sufficient. Does their left knee or ankle bother them? Ask them how their body feels each time you work with them. Always err on the side of caution when having your seniors perform an exercise.
Find out what they like to do day in and day out. Is something physically preventing them from enjoying what they like to do? How can you help them do it better?
Work on Balance and Core Strength
Focus on balance. Respect that your client may be afraid to try things that may affect their balance, especially if they have had previous falls.
Start with two feet on the ground then progressively move up to more instability like one leg or stand on a foam pad. If they are still afraid, provide a chair to hold onto. Stay close to your client so they will feel safe. Sometimes, no matter what you do, your client may still not want to do a balance exercise. Accept it and seniors where they are at.
Depending on your client’s balance and abilities, you may want to always have a seated exercise option or just a chair for them to rest and drink water.
Make sure to include core exercises to improve balance and stability, which will reduce the risk of falls for your senior clients. Remember, not all core exercises have to be done on the floor! They can be done seated or standing as well.
Benefits of Weight Training
Muscle strength declines significantly after age 50, at approximately 15% per decade. Weight training should be done with light weights at first. Depending on our client you may need to start out with only one set then slowly build up to three sets. Don’t be afraid to increase the weight they lift! As in everything start out light, evaluate, and then increase your client’s load. All clients, no matter what age love it when they feel themselves getting stronger and see their bodies changing.
Cardio for Seniors is a Must
Your clients need some sort of cardio. Find out what they are doing at home. Do they walk, ride a bike? If not find out what they are willing to do at home or with you. Encourage your client to move often during the day, instead of sitting for long periods of time. If they want to do cardio at home but they don’t have the time, encourage your client to do three ten minute sessions throughout the day.
Flexibility and Mobility
Flexibility is a key component in an exercise program, especially for seniors. Spend at least 10-15 minutes stretching at the end of each workout. Tight muscles will reduce the body’s range of motion and can affect balance which reduces the ability to perform daily tasks. Mobility affects the range of motion and should be done as part of the warm-up. Spend at least 10-15 minutes warming up correctly.
Work on agility. Use ladders, cones, small hurdles, dots, tennis balls, etc…Start them out slow then work on getting faster. Make sure they focus on lifting their feet and knees to prevent tripping.
Seniors Benefit From Meditation Too
Teach your senior client relaxation and breathing techniques at the end of a session. It’s all about helping your client feel good. As we age, the mind-body connection is even more important to maintaining good health, since aging reduces the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease. In fact, a senior’s state of mind can impact their physical health even more during this life stage. Consequently, finding ways to maintain an active, positive state of mind is vital to enjoying physical, emotional and mental well-being.
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