What do athletes train for? Athletes train for the event that they are competing in. The field however stretches far from the courts and crowds.
You don’t need to complete a podium finish to be an athlete
There are 1/4th of Americans aged 65+ that fall down each year. Every 11 seconds, another adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Chronic diseases account for 75% of the money our nation spends on health care, yet only 1% of health dollars are spent on public efforts to improve overall health1.
Forget the assumption that at fill-in-the-blank-age our bodies will fall apart and we will become weak. Empower yourself to maintain or improve your health through exercise.
You may not be donning some state-of-the-art gear, have sponsors or compete for a podium finish. Your sport is life and this event has no off seasons. In life, we literally move to do what we need to do. Especially to keep our independence as we get older it is key to be able to move well for our quality of life.
The events include the squat, deadlift, pulling objects, pushing things, rotating and lunging. Then think about what you like to do – play with the kids or grandkids, golf, vacation, gardening, triathlons, and the list goes on! In this metaphor is a nugget of truth- “training for life does not stop at a prescribed age.” What happens if we decide to throw in the towel and stop training for life?
You should not stop exercising regardless of your age. Disregard assumptions about physical potential as you age because you decide what your potential is. The point is to hone in on the important fact that exercise is much more than “getting in shape”. Your type of exercise may change as you age, but don’t stop training for life.
Things could be so different when you choose to empower yourself
Imagine you are planning a trip to visit New Zealand after an old friend from college shares her sons story of the amazing landscapes there. You not only enlist your partner in crime, but also the invitation is extended to your kids and grandkids. They all accept the challenge. Plans are made, everyone is excited. This will be a splurge but a worthwhile one. You all arrive in New Zealand. The next day everyone is up early and ready to log some miles.
You want to participate in the story telling during the walk but you are too focused on trying to navigate uneven terrain. In the back of your head you knew that your balance was not what it used to be but just decided to push through it. It is also quickly apparent that it is difficult for you to mount any areas where you have to step up. Only an hour in the hike and the group is slowing to your pace and you hear a family member say “see I told you this was not a good idea, she is too old for this trip, especially with her arthritis”.
You are not only able to navigate the terrain during the trip, but you are making it look easy. Because you knew the trip was coming up you started to work with a fitness professional to improve your balance and strength among other things. Your knee pain became more manageable because of your sessions and with the help of walking sticks you are able to relieve the pressure on your knees. Pictures are taken, stories are told and memories are made.
What are you going to do when you get to that point that you are able to experience that joy of enjoying that trip.. vs the frustration of not being able to complete it?
What are you going to do with your life so you make sure you experience your wants and likes?
I am training with a 78 year young client right now for her vacation in Columbia. Ruth wants to be able to enjoy her trip without being distracted by things like her balance and strength. Since working with me she has made strides in her balance and agility. Of great importance she has been aware of how our sessions have improved her everyday life. She has also purchased and is using walking sticks during her walks to ease the pressure on her arthritic knee. Otherwise known as Nordic walking, it has been shown in studies the cardiovascular benefits from it.
Train for life so you stay in the green and keep your functional capacity and have a good quality of life where you can do what you want to do. Inactivity will lead to a quick decline to a place where inability to do everyday activities is life changing.
This is how you can get started
The first step is to talk to your doctor to get cleared for exercise and also make sure that you are on top of any chronic conditions that you have. Also, get your eyes checked. Then explore all of the options for you. Some love the big gym environment, others prefer small studios. Some individuals prefer personal trainers, others prefer the community aspect of a group class. Depending on the time of the year and where you live you may have some outdoor options.
You may encounter individuals that disregard you because of your age, make assumptions or don’t know how to work with an older population. Disregard them and move on to those that show you the respect of challenging you just enough and don’t treat you like you are fragile.
Do exercises that can benefit your daily activities
These exercises below should be part of your regime: squat, deadlift, pulling, pushing, lunging and rotating. Remember, get cleared for exercise with your doctor and follow any instructions that they may have. Also feel free reach out to professionals to give you some hands on instructions.
A good way to improve your squats is to do chair squats. Sit on the edge of a chair without rollers. Have your feet firmly planted so you can stand up. Try crossing your arms across your chest so you don’t rock. Keep a good tall posture. When you do rise push off on your heels. Stand up tall. When you return to the chair don’t just fall down. Return to the chair slowly.
Even if you are not familiar with this name, you do this movement in everyday life. Think about how many times you pick something up off the floor. Many times you are executing a deadlift. There are many useful videos about proper form. Click here to read an article and see the videos. It may be useful to practice this without a weight and have a fitness professional watch your form if you can. This exercise is different than a squat.
Resistance bands are great tools for everyone. There are resistance bands with handles already attached and of ranging weights just like dumbbells. You can execute rows if you attach them to a sturdy pole or enlist a partner to hold the other end.
Being able to push is important when getting up off the floor, moving furniture or other objects. Wall pushups can be a great way to not only build your arm strength but it can be a good core workout. Start completely vertical and be able to place your palms against the wall at the same time. Try a few pushups against the wall. Focus on bringing your chest to the wall, not your head. Then increase the angle by taking a step back and trying it again. Now your feet are further back than your hands. Make sure you keep that standing plank & keep your body straight like a board. Soon you will find a comfortable but challening angle that you can start to practice your pushups.
You want to be able to step in a direction and pick something up. When you do this you are performing a lunge. Strengthen your legs and improve your balance. Start off stepping at a comfortable length forward and pushing back with that front foot. Try stepping to the side and then pushing back. If you are working on improving your balance have a wall at your back for support. Soon step at different angles – just like we do in our everyday life. Think of your path of lunges like the hands of a clock and hit all of them. Holding a moderate weight in your hands can also be a good idea after you have mastered it and your balance is improved.
A good way to incorporate rotation in your training is adding a rotation to your lunge. Lunge to the side and then slowly turn in the direction that you lunged. Make sure that you keep tall and don’t lean over. A good way to keep your core engaged is to cross your arms and have your elbows up like a genie. Also if you have a medicine ball or dumbbell you can hold this after you have mastered it and your balance has improved.
Some mental notes to help you maintain this habit.
Get friends and have fun
If there is an activity that you enjoy like lawn bowling, dancing or tennis, join a team. Often as we get older we don’t take time to play and move. Mix in some activity that is outside the box of “working out”. There are also many social and emotional benefits of being part of an active community. Or if you prefer to do something around the house start gardening, that can be a great way to get outside and move!
Create milestones to see the difference
Is there something that you have always wanted to do? Train for that vacation, trip or experience you want to enjoy. You will see how your improvement benefits your everyday life activities too.
The saying rings true – move it or lose it. If you don’t train for things like balance or strength chances are those abilities will erode. You can maintain or regain it, don’t think that you can’t! Instead of dragging your feet to exercise to “get in shape” change your mindset to exercise so you can do what you want to do in life!