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The Benefits of Active Aging

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Older couple hugging younger granddaughter

From losing strength to isolation, aging can be scary, but staying involved and active can help. The International Council on Active Aging defines active aging as “promoting the vision of all individuals—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or health—fully engaging in life within all seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual/cognitive, physical, professional/vocational, social and spiritual.” Active aging is something Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainers Lisa Hanley and Daniel Montes help guide their clients through daily.

Just because you're getting older doesn't mean you have to quit exercising. In fact, staying active as you age helps keep your mind and body sharp as well as prevent disease and risk of falls. Hanley and Montes discuss how modifying exercises and incorporating power, motion and balance into your workouts can keep you strong at any age. 

"One time, a client of mine in her 40s was complaining about doing the assisted pull-up machine because it was so challenging," says Hanley. "Shortly after, an octogenarian hopped on the same machine and knocked out a set of 12, no problem. We looked at each other, laughed and she has never complained about doing that exercise again!"

Active aging at Cooper
Engaging in all seven dimensions of wellness while aging can be daunting, especially considering the long definition. Let’s break it down. Active aging simply put is the maintenance of well-being; having good physical, social and mental health; and continued involvement with one’s family, peer group and community throughout the aging process. 

Cooper Aerobics Founder and Chairman Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, is a prime example of active aging. In his 90s, he still sees patients, travels, stays up to date on preventive medicine research and attends continuing education, presents at conferences and spends time with family, all while never missing a workout. 

"It's something we at Cooper Aerobics have been practicing for more than 50 years," says Hanley. "Cooper Fitness Center has truly provided a facility and culture that nurtures this concept." With an entire center focused on prevention and a plethora of resources, active aging has never been more attainable. “Many clients desire to slow down the aging process,” says Montes. “It is easy to get discouraged as we age, so being able to help improve people’s quality and quantity of life—at every stage—is very fulfilling.”

Modification is key
While you may not be able to run, jump or squat like you could in your 20s, you can still challenge your body through simple modifications. How do you modify an exercise? Follow these three steps:

  1. Adjust the resistance to an appropriate level 
  2. Use a slightly smaller range of motion 
  3. Perform repetitions at a slower, more controlled pace

"By making just a few modifications, aging individuals will find they can perform many of the same exercises younger people can do," says Hanley. Once you get your modifications down, Hanley says it’s important to focus on three fundamentals:

  1. Power
  2. Motion
  3. Balance

For a demonstration of power, motion and balance exercises, watch the Exercise Move.

Just because you're aging doesn't mean you can't unleash the power. Montes says, “Power improves tempo and speed. As we age, our movements slow down because our muscles’ ability to contract quickly and powerfully lessens. This can lead to injury and an increased risk of falls.” Incorporating power movements into your workouts helps with your daily movements and keeps you moving for years to come. 

A great exercise that adds a lot of power is a standard forward lunge. As you lunge, create power by pushing with your front leg to create acceleration as you return to a standing position. 

When it comes to motion, Montes and Hanley emphasize the importance of moving your body in different planes of motion to improve joint mobility and reduce the risk of injury. "Most people spend the majority of their day moving in one plane of motion, which is straight ahead," says Hanley. "Many walk straight to their computer, sit down, slouch over the keyboard and stay there for hours."

Incorporating lateral and diagonal movement patterns into your workouts helps with daily mobility. To improve your plane of motion, Hanley suggests trying a Medicine Ball Squat and Chop:

  • Use a four-pound medicine ball
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart
  • Squat down as if you were sitting back onto a chair while chopping the medicine ball down to the outside of your right knee
  • Chop it diagonally up over your left shoulder as you stand back up and then repeat on the other side

"In an ideal world, we would all move and have control of our bodies in various positions with and against gravity," says Hanley. "That’s fitness!"

Incorporating balance training elements into each of your workouts can help you age gracefully. Literally. Our bodies are equipped with elements to keep track of our position in space.

"These elements include the inner ear, bottoms of our feet and even sensors in our muscles and tendons," explains Hanley. "As time passes, we become increasingly dependent upon our eyes to tell us if we are losing balance or worse, falling."

Want to check your balance? Try this balance test:

  • Stand heel to toe as if on a balance beam
  • Turn your head to the left, right, down and up, holding each position for five seconds
  • Next, keep your head still but close your eyes

Did you pass the balance test? If you find you need improvement, practicing this exercise several days a week can help keep your balance on point.

Promote active aging early on
Waiting to begin exercising later in life can make it more difficult to age well. Montes says, “The best thing you can do when you’re in your 20s is to get involved in social activities and education classes, eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet and exercise, of course!” If you started practicing healthy habits or exercising later in life—in your 40s or 50s—Montes says, “Don’t get discouraged—aging is a natural part of life! It is never too late to start exercising, plus, you can make modifications to exercises.” 

“Start now. Make a change. It’s never too late to start exercising for your health.”
Tyler C. Cooper, MD, MPH

Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper recommends getting at least 30 minutes of collective or sustained aerobic activity most days per week in addition to at least two days of strength training per week. As we age the aerobic-strength training ratios change, too: 

  • Ages 40 and younger: 80% aerobic exercise; 20% strength training
  • Ages 41-50: 70% aerobic exercise; 30% strength training
  • Ages 51-60: 60% aerobic exercise; 40% strength training 
  • Ages 61+: 55% aerobic exercise; 45% strength training

As with any new workout routine, it is important to start slowly and exercise safely. If you're looking for ways to add power, motion and balance into your workouts, a professional fitness trainer can help design a program for you and meet with you periodically to check your progress and adjust your program as needed.
For more information on personal training or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.