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Aging and exercise

By Liz Montes

My oldest client, Helen, is 92; she is healthy, positive and a delight to train. She’s actually quite popular with everyone she meets in the gym. It’s not unusual to see 70-plus-year-olds in gyms these days. As a matter of fact they make up a large part of the population in the gyms in the US. And, you see many in the gyms here as well.

The Washington Post had a great article a few weeks ago about Ray Clark, a 102-year young person working out in the gym. At 102 he can do curls with 40-pound dumbbells. He works out vigorously on a row machine, works kettle bells, which require hand-eye coordination, not to mention cardio endurance. Mr. Clark says the weight resistance exercise has significantly improved his strength, balance and coordination.

The National Institute on Aging reports that only 11 per cent of people over the age of 85 practice resistance-training exercise. Those are very low numbers, despite all the information on the importance of exercise and maintaining strength as we age. Less than 15 percent over the age of 65 exercise regularly. Those percentages are unfortunate considering the alternative. The decline in muscle mass (sarcopenia) and strength is inevitable as we age. However, by maintaining a strength program you can prevent many of the so-called “aging diseases” and the problems associated with aging. Helen, like Mr. Clark, has significantly increased her strength, endurance and her ability to get around. Making them more independent, perhaps, even saving on medical costs, and again proving that it is never too late to begin an exercise program.

Many years ago I did internships in retirement communities, those people were very willing and eager to exercise. Perhaps because many were already in wheelchairs or walking with canes, but I believe it made them work hard. I saw several people feeling so much stronger after just a few weeks that they no longer needed their canes and many who no longer wanted to sit in their wheelchairs.

The dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University says that studies show that 95 percent of older people can safely exercise including the people with problems of heart disease, arthritis and hypertension. Experts agree that many of the problems that they are experiencing are due to lack of fitness not their age! I see this often, people blaming their problems on age when in fact it could be solved with a safe and correct fitness program.

Sarcopenia (muscle loss) leads to many problems that weight training helps to prevent. Falls, balance issues, osteoporosis, obesity, not being able to get up from a chair, climbing stairs, worse yet, not being able to walk the streets of San Miguel. All these issues and so many more can be arrested and even prevented with weight-bearing exercises.

We have several senior clients and there is nothing more satisfying than to watch them move around the gym and complete their (not so easy) exercise routines. We’ve had to make a lot of changes in the gym and method of training with the senior population but it’s been fun and satisfying to watch their progress.

Helen works out with a pacemaker; she has difficulty hearing and can’t see very well. But, she is quick to understand and then conduct any new exercise with a better understanding than before. Last week as she was leaving the gym she made sure that I was aware that she was a bit tired from the workout but would be there for her next scheduled workout. It occurred to me that since she began her workouts she has never missed one! She makes all her other appointments on the non-workout days and has insisted that her family come here to see her because she does not want to miss her workouts. That’s been three years now.


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