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Fitness – Our Fountain of Youth?!

By Karyn Gallivan, MS, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT
Contributor, Sports+Fitness Network SeniorTriathlon

Look around at the next outdoor event (road race, charity walk, challenge) and you’ll see the average age of participants soaring towards the 40 and over crowd.  And, for good reason; the physical and performance limitations that were just accepted as true as folks moved past 40 years of age are no longer –it turns out that there is plenty of current research that points to exercise/fitness as being the most promising Fountain of Youth available.

This should be good news to personal trainers and clients alike.  There are plenty of people in need of training, and with a consistently worked plan, results are pretty easy to come by.  However, there is no denying that there are physical changes as we age.  It is unlikely that a 60 year old runner will ever be as fast as they were in their 20s and 30s.  But I submit that, if one was never active in their youth, how do they even know what their potential is?  Theoretically, it is limitless!

In working with an older client, it is important to understand how to design a fitness program that provides the desired training effect without over-doing it.  So, if their goals are to improve their health and quality of life, improve productivity, decrease their chances (or lessen the severity) of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart disease, design a program with the frequency and intensity that allows for progress, and all but negates the chance of injury.

There is no doubt that an appropriate fitness program can provide the benefits mentioned, but the trick seems to be finding the right combination of activities to keep a client interested for the long haul.  Keep in mind that anyone who is over 40 already has at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), age, so it is important to find activities that will improve their CVD risk profile.  The great news is that, even though endurance training is touted to provide these benefits, any type of exercise will help.

Whether your client is a master’s level competitive athlete or interested in looking, feeling, and being their best, there are often nagging little injuries that pop up from time to time.  If not addressed quickly, these may only leave them disillusioned, and then you lose them as clients.  There are two things to look out for if this happens (even though we do our best to avoid them) –over training, and not paying attention to inherent weaknesses, risk factors or old injuries.

Understanding the adaptation principle is key to your success with this type of client.  And, it is not only the workout frequency and intensity that you should pay attention to, but their daily lives, as well.  Stress, busy work or travel schedules, or home projects may call for more rest or a less intense workout on certain days.  The body will change and adapt in response to the demands all of these activities place on it, though proper recovery (this includes nutrition) is probably the most important fitness parameter in this regard.  Even so, it can take 5 – 7 years for most people to adapt fully to their desired level of activity.  Of course, it may not take that long, or can take longer; I always try to get an idea of how many years of deconditioning, poor habits, bad nutrition, old injuries, and lifestyle diseases we are dealing with.  The answers to these questions and assessments give me a good idea of both the sort- and long-term possibilities.

The great thing about the human body, though, is that, given the right amount of activity, along with proper nutrition and recovery, and sufficient time, anything is possible!




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