Exercise for Seniors

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Tough Old Bird

Exercise Program for Older Adults

Source: One of the MANY e-mails my mom sends me.

  1. Begin by standing on a comfortable surface where you have plenty of room at each side.
  2. With a 5-lb. potato sack in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides, and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax.
  3. Each day you’ll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer.
  4. After a couple weeks, move up to 10-lb. potato sacks.
  5. Then try 50-lb. potato sacks. Then eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb. potato sack in each hand, and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute. (I’m at this level.)
  6. Once you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each sack.

No matter what age you are, being sedentary can be hazardous to your health! From the moment we are born, humans were meant to move. While starting an exercise program is always best done when you are younger, it doesn’t mean if you are currently reading this at age 40 + and never really exercised a day in your life, you should just give up.

Did you know that more adults fear losing their independent than death?

Now is the best time to start any type of exercise plan.

I believe that the human body is the only machine on the face of the earth that wears out and breaks down from not using it enough.” - Tom Venuto

The past surgeon general estimated that ~85% of our most dreaded diseases could be prevented with appropriate exercise. You’ll exercise later? No problem. Join the ranks of thousands each year that have major issues due to inactivity. Now hear this…

I’m not asking you to be the next Mr. or Ms. Olympia but I am asking you to start moving.

Being Sedentary Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

  • 300,000 deaths per year are related to poor diets and inactivity
  • 60% of U.S. adults don’t engage in a minimum amount of physical activity
  • 40% of U.S. adults are not active at all

The list goes on but I think you get the point.

Age is No Excuse for Inactivity

If you’ve not heard, adults in their 70’s and 80’s can achieve a level of fitness associated with people 30 years younger. To put that into some type of perspective, an active 65 year old could be as fit as a sedentary 30 year old. Moreover…

You get fragile as you age? That’s a myth my older friends. Wolf’s Law, named for the German pathologist states:

“The robustness of a bone is in direct proportion to the physical forces applied to that bone.”

In short, if you remain active your bones will remain strong. Weight bearing exercises help to strength bones. You older guys and gals should be participating in weight exercises if you aren’t already.

Adults who lead a sedentary existence increase the risk of fracturing bones in accidents around the home or becoming unable to perform regular routine tasks around the home.

FACT: Unfit people will experience a decline in physical performance of roughly 2% per year while fit people will only decline by around 0.5% per year.

I’m no math expert but I can tell you that take that by 30 years and you’ve got a HUGE difference on your hands. Need more proof? Check out Art De Vany.

“At 70, I am fit and lean and strong at 6?1? and 200 pounds. I am never sick and can do anything I want to do”. - Authur De Vany

Training Considerations

  1. Get some medical clearance first before you bum rush the gym and start doing the latest 3 hour routine you just found in that muscle mag
  2. Have a program designed for your specific issues (ROM, join pain, existing injuries, flexibility, fatigue, medical considerations)
  3. Start off slowly (just like a beginner at any age) until you get a good level of base strength

It can be a little more complex than the above but most professional fitness trainers in conjunction with your doctor can design a program based on your current abilities, medical constraints and pre-existing injuries if any.

However, this isn’t an excuse. I’ve personally witness a 74 year old come into my gym and do pull-ups, 3 times a week with a 45 lb weight. For reps! I’m also in contact with a 65 year old Harley Davidson motorcycle rider who did 405 lb squats last year and aims to beat his record this year… AFTER … having knee surgery.

If you want more proof age is no excuse, check out Fit Over 40 by Jon Benson. His beautiful book is an not only an inspiration to what you can accomplish at any age but it’s a true testimonial that you can build muscle and burn fat no matter what your age.

I often get asked if there’s a real different in training between somebody who’s younger (30) and somebody who’s older (50+). A few of my fitness colleagues believe there’s different routines for older people.


Jim Flanagan said it best when being interviewed by Dr. Darden.

“Today, I train just as hard, but not as frequent. I allow for more recovery…”

That’s the real difference. RECOVERY. In fact, you might argue that if you are older, you have to train harder in order to keep those gains coming.

Don’t let age be a factor in anything you do. And don’t get suckered into training programs for older people.

Scott “Old Navy” Hults didn’t even start bodybuilding until age 59 if I recall. He’s won several big name competitions in the Master Pro Bodybuilder category. He trains just as hard as any younger guy. Maybe harder. Most of his training partners are guys who are half his age. He doesn’t do any special exercises for seniors. He started off slow just like any beginner would and he increased his level of fitness. Now he can train at an advanced level.

In short for those who hate to read, Scott didn’t do some special old man exercises or buy into a program for seniors because he was over 40.

While there are considerations for older adults based on their current fitness levels and medical considerations not present in younger people, it’s still the same principles.

We all should know by now that life is a never ending series of choices. While it’s true that advanced in technology have lead to the decline of many diseases, it’s hard to argue that a change to ones lifestyle and environment have the GREATEST impact. Even the smallest changes can result in significant and life altering benefits.

Go out and get some exercise…. please.

Additional Resources:

Top 10 Fitness Trends


Authur De Vany

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