Senior exercises improve balance and mobility

Senior exercises improve balance and mobility

As a personal trainer, my ambition is to make a difference in the lives of others, and that includes helping seniors. I was lucky to start my career by working with an 84-year-old client. She was a breast cancer survivor and stroke survivor. Like clockwork, she’d come into the fitness center where I worked and make a beeline to the treadmill for her 30-minute walk. Occasionally, I’d hop on a treadmill next to her and we became friends.

After a short time, I asked if she’d entrust me to help her improve her fitness level. Through my training, I knew the importance of helping seniors get fit by building muscle and gaining strength to improve balance.

Polly Slater, who’s a certified personal trainer at highly rated Bang Fitness Project in Carmel, says she often sees senior clients who don’t know where to start, and performs physical and mental assessments with them before beginning a workout regimen. This allows her to identify weaknesses, such as spinal alignment problems.

From there, Slater designs programs that improve mobility, lower back strength, hunching of the shoulders and neck, and helps to properly realign the body. “Consistency trumps intensity, so it’s important to exercise three to five days a week,” she says, adding seniors should stay active on a daily basis through the activities they enjoy.

Andre Grimes, a certified personal trainer at the highly rated Jewish Community Center near Meridian Hills, works with approximately 10 senior clients a month and agrees it’s important for seniors to stay active. “If they stop being active, it can cause them to find it harder to enjoy simple pleasures in life or everyday tasks such as meeting up with friends,” he says. “As we age, we slowly lose muscle mass, which can cause a decrease in mobility, and a decline in energy and strength, thus making you more vulnerable to falls.”  Grimes encourages seniors to find a patient trainer who identifies exercises based on individual needs; incorporates education on proper form, balance and safety; and provides encouragement.

My 84-year-old client agreed to embark on a three-day-a-week fitness program with me. I had noticed that she had trouble getting up from a seated position, her shoulders were rounded forward, and she lacked flexibility and balance. We worked on strengthening the hamstrings, hips and quads to help her gain the muscle power necessary to stand up without the aid of her arms. We also worked core-strengthening exercises to improve the muscles that run along either side of the spine. Strength training became our major focus, but she enjoyed her walks, so we made sure to work it into her routine.

After just a few weeks, my client walked taller and gained a significant amount of flexibility. The biggest surprise came about three months later, when she showed me that she could stand from a seated position without pushing herself up with her arms. Since that time, I’ve been a strong believer in the ability of seniors to make remarkable gains through strength training.

Kelsey Taylor is a certified personal trainer with the International Fitness Professionals Association, a sports nutritionist and a strength training instructor with more than 12 years of experience. She works at Angie’s List as the wellness director.

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