By: Chris Parchmann and the Ageility Team
There are several conditions common to older adults (age 55+) that must be kept in mind in order to stay safe when participating in an exercise program. Ageility has identified factors such as include poor balance, inclination to injuries, reduced flexibility, reduced tolerance to heat and humidity, and susceptibility to colds and flu. Safety must always be a priority when exercising and Ageility recommends one err on the side of caution. Most individuals are better off performing some form of exercise rather than abstaining due to the physical and cognitive benefits. Several modifications can be made to exercise programs for older adults.
Poor balance occurs when an individual is unable to maintain their center of gravity within their base of support, frequently resulting in falls that may lead to injury. Exercises can be performed in seated or lying positions if one shows signs of unsteadiness or fatigue. However, standing exercises are extremely important to improve balance because adaptations are specific to the demand placed upon the body. To get better at standing exercises, one must practice exercises while standing. Transferability of standing exercise skills are subsequently greater to sports standing daily living activities. Use support such as the back of a chair when performing standing exercises when uncertain. Proper form and technique should also be kept in mind during standing exercises by keeping the feet in a hip to shoulder width apart stance to increase stability. Avoid exercises that are more difficult to assure safety.
Older adults have a propensity for injuries. One should exercise in an uncluttered space to minimize the risk of colliding into an object or preventing falls. The pace of each movement should be slow and controlled. However, exercises emphasizing power may necessitate higher velocities. Always emphasize proper posture and exercise technique. Reduced flexibility is another condition that may lead to injuries or decrease overall quality of life. Daily living activities such as rising out of bed and dressing for the day are impacted by flexibility. Limited flexibility has shown to improve with lower intensity warm-up exercises. Warm-up movements are beneficial before any type of physical activity including exercise routines. The increase in blood flow and neural stimulation may quickly increase range of motion at targeted joints throughout the body in a short period. Warm-up routines are performed in a dynamic fashion and can be completed in as little as 5-10 minutes. Stretching exercises have also been shown to improve flexibility. Static stretches are generally performed at the conclusion of a work out and held for 20 seconds to 1 minute. Avoid exercises that require extreme end ranges of motion to prevent injury.
Reduced tolerance to heat and humidity is another factor that comes with age. Outdoor/indoor fitness sessions can be alternated for variety but variables such as weather affect overall safety. Considerations include exercising in a climate-controlled facility whenever possible. Schedule exercise sessions earlier in the day when temperatures are lower. Drink plenty of fluids to replenish total body water loss. Wear lightweight clothing to remain cool throughout the exercise session. Lastly, older adults are more vulnerable to colds and flu. Shower or wash the face and hands after each work out. Obtain plenty of rest and sleep to help prevent infections and viruses.
Older adults must be aware of common conditions that may affect safety when exercising. Once the conditions are identified, one can develop an exercise plan with the proper modifications. Great caution should be taken and a primary care physician consulted before beginning any exercise program. Frequently monitor the plan and recognize new issues that need to be addressed. Adjust the program as needed to assure a safe, effective, and enjoyable experience.