Vashon Athletic Club owner Kevin Allman of Vashon Island, Wash. spends the majority of his time training senior citizens, who comprise a healthy 30 to 40 percent of his clientele. With a population of 10,000 residents and a median age of 44 years (compared to Seattle’s median age of 34), Vashon’s demographics have contributed to Allman becoming somewhat of an authority on senior fitness, including those who need senior care.
“I really think that seniors can benefit the most from exercise, because the lack of strength and stamina tends to be most pronounced in that age group,” he says. “Once a program is initiated, seniors typically see a dramatic improvement in their quality of life as a result.”
Aside from contributing to overall physical health and wellbeing, exercise can improve cognitive function in seniors. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that six-months of physical activity improved memory related issues, and these results were consistent throughout the 18-month follow-up period.
Often, the biggest hurdle is getting started — especially for those who have never had a fitness routine. Allman recommends water-based group activities to motivate newcomers. Water resistance improves strength modestly, is effective for cardiovascular fitness, and provides a mental peace of mind not found in other forms of exercise.
Vashon Athletic Club, like many gyms, features senior water walking and aqua aerobics classes, both of which attract sizeable attendance. “Water Fitness is great,” says Allman. “It is gentle and low impact on the joints, and some of our clients with serious physical impairments — those who can't use land-based modes of exercise — can walk in the pool.”
For core strength, flexibility and relaxation, Allman recommends yoga and tai chi. A recent study (Manjunath, Telles, 2005) found that the practice of yoga improves quantity and quality of sleep among the senior population, decreasing the time needed to fall asleep by an average of 10 minutes, and increasing the total number of hours slept by an average of 60 minutes. In other studies, yoga has proven an elixir for: arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, chronic pain and breathing difficulties.
With spring just around the corner, now might be a good time to encourage elderly friends and family to find an experienced trainer like Allman and to engage in physical activity — be it swimming, water walking or yoga. For more information and resources, visit the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports website.
Homewatch CareGivers can help your aging loved one successfully engage in fitness and exercise programs. We provide transportation services (to and from the gym, yoga class, etc.) and also companion care (helping seniors go for a walk, exercise at home, etc.). To view Homewatch CareGivers' Guide to Senior Health and Wellness, click here.