As a senior, in many ways, it’s more vital to adhere to a solid exercise plan than as a young person. Young and old alike are both susceptible to injury but injuries that may be considered minor during your youth could be catastrophic as a senior.
As we get older, our bodies don’t take well to the impact of a fall and we don’t heal as quickly when we bite off more than we can chew on the squat machine. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind some fundamental guidelines when starting an exercise program. These are generally common sense guidelines but no matter how old you are, common sense can easily be washed away when competitive adrenaline kicks in.
SEE A DOCTOR
Again, this applies to everyone starting a new exercise program but it’s even more important as a senior. I had a senior at my gym who wanted to hire me as her client. I gave her a questionnaire that was 5 pages long.
She took it to her doctor and even he was amazed at how thorough it was. She thought I was picking on her because of her age but I did this with everyone because as a personal trainer, I need to know any limitations that need to be addressed when I create a program.
Keep in mind that I never turned away anyone due to health or age-related reasons. I just made sure I was never pushing a client to the point of injury because of an unknown health issue. When your diet and your exercise program are on the same page, you have a greater chance of improving your health.
Easy Does It
Unless you accidentally signed up for, “Senior Boot Camp Madness,” (in which case, your first exercise should be to move as quickly as possible to the nearest exit) your goal isn’t to push yourself 110% the first time out. The body needs time to adjust to a new program and going hard is an easy path to injury so you want to follow exercise guidelines that will build strength, muscle and endurance at a gradual and continual pace.
I tell my clients that you don’t build muscle just by lifting weights. Lifting weights actually damages the muscle. It’s by recovering and creating minute scar tissue that the muscle becomes stronger. As a senior, it takes a little longer to recover and build muscle but it is possible – even for women. The rewards go beyond muscle strength to helping you increase bone density and that’s a huge benefit to seniors.
Mix It Up
The body has an amazing capacity to adapt to stress. This means that you need to incorporate a variety of exercises to keep your muscles guessing.
Balance is also key. You can do 50 bicep curls three times a week but if you don’t add weight and/or reps and complement those curls with a tricep program, shoulder program, core program, (you get the idea) and then change it up every six weeks or so, don’t stand there at the fridge wondering why you’re still struggling to lift a gallon of milk.
Without balance and variety, your body will adapt and your program will become inefficient. That means you’re wasting your time at the gym and no doubt getting frustrated by your lack of results.
The word, “routine,” should be banned from every effective fitness plan because the best routine is the one that keeps the body guessing.
Your Body Talks – Try Listening
Sometimes, the simplest pieces of advice are the most sage. By the time you reach middle age, you are probably (and unfortunately) an expert at recognizing the difference between pain and discomfort. Working through pain is the easiest way to injure yourself.
If you wisely eased yourself into your current exercise program, you probably felt some aches and pains. Don’t be surprised if the second day after you exercised hurt more than the day immediately following a workout.
This is called, “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” or, “DOMS,” and it’s quite common. It’s why so many routines mix up the days with a cardio routine, followed the next day by working a completely different set of muscles. It gives your body the time it needs to completely recover before starting again.
Still in too much pain? Then take another day off and take it a little easier on yourself the next time you tackle that routine.
Remember the old doctor’s joke?
Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.”
Doctor: “Then don’t do that.”
Yeah. That joke definitely applies while you’re working out.
Recognize Your Limits
Let’s be sensible here. If you have a chronic condition like arthritis in your knees, don’t try and do full squats and a set of lunges. Ask a professional – your doctor, chiropractor, PT – for advice on a solid routine for strengthening your legs.
Similarly, don’t go trying a couch to 5K running program without consulting a physician. They will most likely tell you to try walking first instead. Weight-bearing exercise is important but it can be painful if you’re knees or feet aren’t up for it.
Dress With A Purpose (Fashion is NOT Your Purpose)
Don’t wear clothes that are too warm. You will sweat during a proper workout and heavy clothing can make you overheat very quickly. Seniors in particular need to be on their guard against dehydration. Layer up with a zippered sweatshirt if its cold in the workout room. You can always remove it later.
If you’re already a senior, you’re probably aware that as we age, we lose the padding on our feet. That means, proper shoes are a must.
You should try them on with the same socks you plan on working out in. Socks that are too thick can be constricting while too thin could result in too much shoe padding leading to your foot sliding around in your shoes and consequently, instability and no one wants to be a wobbling mess in a gym.
By following these simple guidelines when starting your exercise plan, you should be able to avoid the most common injuries newcomers encounter.