You may have heard the saying, “Fifty is the new 40.” If you take a good look around you, you may notice that the age of 50 looks very different now than it did a generation ago. The U.S. is experiencing a demographic shift, as senior citizens become a larger percentage of the U.S. population. According to statistics reported in Discovery magazine, the number of Americans aged 65 and over is expected to triple to 93 million within the next 50 years.
Americans are living longer, and as a result, YMCA of the USA reports that YMCAs across the country are seeing more older adults walking through their doors. That is certainly true at the Albany Area YMCA, where over 300 individuals, age 65 and over, have enrolled in the SilverSneakers® program since the program began in January 2012.
As some people age, they intentionally adopt a healthier lifestyle in an effort to prolong participation in activities they enjoy, and also to remain independent. And since approximately 80 percent of older Americans live with at least one chronic condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control, adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vitally important as we age.
Many senior citizens, however, report feeling intimidated by the idea of exercise. According to Jim Kauffman, national director for health and well-being at Y-USA, “Seniors told us, ‘We’re not ready to just come in and jump on your machines and join your exercise classes. We need more than that.’” The source of intimidation may be that the individual has become sedentary, lost strength, experienced decreased balance, endurance and flexibility, or simply felt that they were “out of practice.” Many people may perceive a gym as a place where other patrons will be at a higher fitness level than themselves.
Seniors should not be intimidated by these factors and should not allow them to be a barrier to a healthy lifestyle. Instead, seniors should realize that staying fit is very important at all stages of life. Before jumping in, however, there are certain things the over-50s should keep in mind. According to Medicine.net, a health-information website, there are several steps seniors should take to increase their chances for success when it comes to health and fitness. The site offers this advice to seniors:
Take your health concerns into consideration and make sure your fitness professional is aware of any medical conditions that may affect you. Of course, make sure your doctor agrees that it is safe for you to exercise, and let your doctor know if you experience any discomfort, shortness of breath, pain, headaches or dizziness while exercising, or if muscle aches don’t subside after a few days of rest.
Ask questions about the instructors and programs at your fitness facility. Are there programs offered that are geared for people your age? Are the instructors trained to work with seniors and do they have experience working with people at a variety of fitness levels?
Be clear about your fitness goals. Are you trying to lose weight, aiming to participate in a 5K, or do you simply want to feel more energized? Fitness professionals can help you achieve your goals while improving your strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Don’t try to keep up with younger members or achieve the same fitness level you enjoyed at age 20. Set new, age-adjusted goals.
Listen to your body. Remember that exercising consistently is an admirable achievement. Don’t push yourself too hard.
If I had to add one additional recommendation to this list, it would be this one — have fun! In Mature Fitness, Karl Knopf says, “Most persons who drop out of exercise programs do so because they are not having fun.” After many years in the fitness industry, I have discovered that people who started exercising for health reasons often kept it up because of the friends they made, the energy they gained, and the fun they were having. Find an activity you enjoy and you will experience fitness at age 50 and beyond.
Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.