The Benefits of Active Aging
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Active aging is something Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Lisa Hanley sees daily and something that never ceases to amaze her.
"One time, a client of mine, who was at the time 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 that exercise again!"
Just because you're getting older doesn't mean you have to quit exercising. In fact, staying active as you age is something that can help keep your mind and body sharp. Hanley discusses how modifying exercises and incorporating motion, balance and power into your workouts can keep you strong at any age.
What Is Active Aging?
Active aging is defined as 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 Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper is a prime example. At age 87, he sees patients almost daily, travels and holds presentations around the world and never misses his evening workout.
"It's something we at Cooper Aerobics have been practicing for nearly 50 years," says Hanley. "Cooper Fitness Center has truly provided a facility and culture that nurtures this concept."
Modifying Is Key
While you might 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:
- Adjust the resistance to an appropriate level
- Use a slightly smaller range of motion
- Perform repetitions at a slower, more controlled pace
"By making just a few modifications, older individuals will find they can do many of the same exercises younger people do," says Hanley.
Once you get your modifications down, Hanley says it’s then important to focus on three fundamentals:
When it comes to motion, Hanley emphasizes the importance of moving your body in different planes of motion.
"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."
Hanley says your workout is the perfect time to incorporate lateral and diagonal movement patterns. To help 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
"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. That's because 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 in a safe place:
- 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. Still balancing? Good!
- Next, keep your head still but close your eyes
Did you pass the balance test? If you find you need improvement, Hanley says practicing this exercise several days a week can help keep your balance on point.
Just because you're aging doesn't mean you can't unleash the power. In fact, Hanley says a muscle’s ability to contract quickly and powerfully is necessary for injury prevention and enjoyment of life.
"Think of getting up from a low theater seat, stepping up into an SUV or tripping," says Hanley. "Now imagine your legs catch you as if it were a non-event. Exercising your muscles at varying speeds can help prepare them for whatever life throws at you."
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 a little acceleration as you go back to standing position.
As with any new workout routine, Hanley says to always start slowly and exercise safely. If you're looking for ways to add motion, balance and power into your workouts, a professional fitness trainer can help design a program for you and meet with you periodically to check progress and adjust the program as needed.
For more information on personal training or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit cooperfitnesscenter.com.