Lets be honest, being active is sometimes a challenge. While exercise is great for your mind and body, the motivation to do it can be your biggest obstacle. For seniors, the challenge to stay active is no different. The only difference is that, for the elderly, exercise often comes with added physical barriers.
When it comes to exercise, the physical barriers seniors have to deal with can be reduced range of motion, aches and pains in joints and other physical limitations from living life. As an active aging specialist, I teach many seniors who have different physical limitations.
Health- and Condition-Based Challenges
One of the seniors in my classes has severe Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA); this type of arthritis is a joint disorder that severely affects her hands. We have had many conversations about how difficult it has been for them to come to my class because of their condition. Because of their RA, they have not attended class for a few months. In class one of the pieces of equipment we use are weights, and since they have difficulty using their hands at times, it makes it difficult to hold them.
Using their experience in class, I will share some psychological barriers older adults face, and how they can be motivated to want to take back their health.
1) Find creative solutions to work around your problems. One psychological barrier they faced was that their condition made it difficult to exercise. As noted earlier, many seniors have a condition or pain in a part of their body that can make exercise more difficult. Our creative solution to break though this barrier was to use bottles of water as weights since they weren’t as heavy or as difficult to hold. Unfortunately for most seniors, they see their condition as a reason why they can’t be active. Instead I encourage seniors to focus on what they can control; which usually is a lot more than their condition has prevented them from doing.
2) Not doing it like everyone else. Another psychological barrier seniors have is comparing themselves to other people. While I like when everyone has the perfect form and technique during exercise, realistically, what is most important is that the form used is right for them. There are often multiple adjustments people can make to doing an exercise if they’re not able to do the full form. For instance, rather than doing a traditional push-up, some seniors can get the same benefit from doing a push-up on their knees. These simple adjustments let them reap the benefits of a specific exercise, even if they can’t physically do a form that someone with a full range of motion could do. And in time, they may even be able to build to doing the full form of an exercise instead of a modified format. With differing health and abilities, seniors have to adjust their workouts so they can get the most out of it while not making their conditions worse.
3) You’re never too old to start. Another psychological barrier many seniors have is that they think are too old to start an exercise program. Exercise at any age is good for the body; I have a lady in one of my classes who is 95 years old and still going strong. Also, many studies have documented that the benefits from exercise are not just physical but mental. My encouragement to anyone who may be considering starting to exercise on a regular basis is to start small. And as you get more comfortable, you’ can increase the duration and intensity of your workouts.
We can create barriers to almost everything in life, but when a goal is worth it, we will find ways to not only break through the barriers but also use them as motivation to achieve great things. I believe that taking your health back, like many other goals, is worth it.
About the Author: Eric Daw is an active aging specialist and the owner of Omni Fitt. Omni Fitt is dedicated to the wellbeing, health and quality of life of people aged 65 and over. Eric motivates and empowers the older adult population to take responsibility for their independence, health and fitness through motivating and positive coaching experiences.