Younger people are no longer the only target market for the fitness industry. With baby boomers representing about 25% of the Australian population, this demographic presents a fantastic new market for personal trainers to tap into.
Baby boomers are big business in Australia today. Classified as those born between 1946 and 1965, these post-war babies are moving into retirement, have funds put aside and are looking at ways of staying fit, healthy and entertained.
Catering for the older generation
Teaching exercise to older people doesn’t necessarily have to be boring or slow, but you do need to focus on their particular mental, physical and social needs.
Many older individuals have a misconception about their limitations, particularly if they haven’t exercised for some time. Some individuals feel that they are “too old” and that suitable exercise options no longer exist. However, it can be easy to convince them out of this thinking pattern and many are very surprised at what they are physically capable of achieving.
If an individual hasn’t exercised for some time, exercise sessions should be instigated gradually. Keep in mind that it is not unusual for some older individuals to have the following conditions:
- low muscle mass or bone density
- weight problems
- knee/hip/shoulder instability
- diabetes or other underlying health conditions
As a fitness instructor, you must be able to tailor appropriate exercise programs that will not aggravate any existing health conditions.
Exercise focuses for older people
As we age and our lifestyles change, our exercise requirements will differ. Older people will appreciate more focus on balance, coordination, muscle strength and flexibility. Functional exercises are also important, i.e. those that focus on building a body capable of undertaking real-life activities in real-life positions.
Weight-bearing exercises are very useful for the elderly, including such exercises as squats, lunges and standing up while working with free weights or pulling against resisted springs/bungee cords. Adding an additional challenge by working on one leg is also very effective. Exercises using a BOSU ball can also be very beneficial for improving strength, balance, and stability.
Exercises can be modified by the use of a chair and exercising or stretching from a seated rather than a standing position. Floor exercises are useful to include and can also be modified, e.g. abdominal exercises can be done with mats or cushions underneath the body to minimise strain and reduce the range of movement where necessary.
A mild amount of cardio exercise will be fine but it should not be the ultimate focus of the session. Instead of high impact cardio such as jumping, skipping or running, consider the use of exercise bikes, rowing machines or exercise in the pool.
Mind over matter
Many people suffer injuries throughout their life or have had health setbacks which can, quite naturally, make them feel anxious about returning to exercise again. These feelings are exacerbated in older people, particularly as society seems to be continually reminding them that they are aging.
Research has found that the main reasons people don’t exercise in their senior years is out of fear. Fear of straining muscles, damaging backs, falling over, feeling too unfit, or not being able to keep up with the rest of the class are some of the main fears. More often than not though, the fear is unfounded, and sadly many people avoid exercise for no real reason.
To counteract this mental barrier it’s important to make the exercise session as non-threatening as possible, coaxing the individual into gentle activities and then slowly supporting their progression as they feel more comfortable. It is important not to push older fitness participants out of their comfort zones.
Make sure your fitness qualifications are visible in your studio and remind people just starting to exercise of your qualifications and expertise to build trust. Use examples of older people (without mentioning names) you have worked with and what it is possible to achieve. It’s also important to acknowledge an older persons concerns about physical limitations and not make them feel like it’s ‘all in their head’.
What motivates older people to exercise?
In 2007, the University of Michigan performed a study, analysing the reasons why 40 to 60 year old women were attracted to exercise. The study found that their main goals were related to a sense of well-being, weight loss and health. Other aspects such as stress relief, fun and competitive purposes were found to be less important for them when exercising regularly.
The above study highlights the need, when exercising with the older generation, to focus on general health, functional fitness and weight loss and be less focused on competitive or high-intensity exercise.
Exercise and social interaction
Exercise classes or sessions are an excellent way for the elderly to maintain social contacts and interaction. They are a great vehicle for social chitchat and meeting new people. In fact, the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) has shown that some of the main benefits for older people participating in physical activity were; getting out of the house, meeting people and maintaining connections and friendships. For many older people, avoiding social isolation, and keeping mentally active were the most important components of maintaining their exercise routines. In fact for some, the exercise component was considered ‘incidental’ said Kirsten Moore, a Research Fellow at NARI.
Social interaction can be encouraged by offering group classes (and encouraging individuals to bring their friends or family members). Including a reception or social area where people can sit down and enjoy a drink and a magazine and chat with other participants after their sessions, is another good idea to promote socialising amongst your clients.
Working with older people can be highly rewarding experience. You’ll meet a range of interesting personalities and you’ll be providing a valuable service to a group of people that have already made a worthy contribution to society. They deserve to feel their best in their senior years!
Sage Institute of Fitness – is more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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