You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting a HASfit program or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs. This is particularly true if you (or your family) have a history of high blood pressure or heart disease, or if you have ever experienced chest pain when exercising or have experienced chest pain in the past month when not engaged in physical activity, smoke, have high cholesterol, are obese, or have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in physical activity. Do not start this fitness program if your physician or health care provider advises against it. If you experience faintness, dizziness, pain or shortness of breath at any time while exercising you should stop immediately.
The biggest problem: You begin with your body bent forward at the hips, and then straighten your hips as you pull the weight from the floor. It takes a lot of strength in your hip and torso muscles to keep your lower back in a safe position. If it shifts out of its natural arch at the beginning, and then moves back into it at the end, the risk of a disc injury is astronomical.
Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, dancing, biking, swimming, etc.): To promote and maintain health, older adults need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days each week or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days each week. (Moderate intensity is when you feel "warm and slightly out of breath," and vigorous is when you feel "out of breath and sweaty.")
Many of the problems that older people have are due to weaknesses caused by inactivity rather than a chronic disease, and a physical training program can have a wide variety of benefits that aren’t just physical. Older patients may socialize more frequently, take care of themselves, get out in the community, and experience more thanks to improved confidence!
Lifting everyday objects like a suitcase or a gallon-size jug of water can become more difficult as you age. Arm curls will strengthen the muscles involved with these movements. Either seated or standing, hold hand weights down at your sides with palms facing up and elbows tucked in, then bend your elbows and lift the weights toward your chest. Hold each repetition for about 1 second, then slowly lower the arms; do a set of 10 reps, rest, and repeat another set.
To quote Gavin McHale, a Winnipeg-based Kinesiologist and Certified Exercise Physiologist who works primarily with older adults: “Strength is the fountain of youth. Benefits of resistance training (strength training), and subsequent strength gains, in older adults include better control of symptoms of chronic disease, pain and depression, as well as prevention of falls, maintaining existing muscle mass, improving posture and stability, increasing bone density and remaining functional.”
Squatting exercises increase hip flexibility and strengthen your hip flexors and quadriceps, which will improve both your walking ability and your ability to stand up from a seated position. It also improves your overall balance and stability, reducing your risk of falling. For the beginner's version, stand up using a chair for support, and perform a standing partial squat as demonstrated in the ElderGym video above.
For aerobic exercise: Walking, dancing (when's the last time you took a ballroom-dancing class?), biking, and swimming are all good options. You can also try exercise videos. Collage Video is a good resource. They have lots of videos for individuals of all ages (search their site for "seniors"). Also check out your local senior center, rec center, Y, or local fitness center for classes that are appropriate for you. Many centers offer exercise classes for seniors. They're out there if you look.
Everyone is different, and everyone’s health can change over the years—or even very quickly, such as after an injury or a medical event like a heart attack. Your doctor will be the best person to guide you on how to exercise safely, based on your medical history and current health. Need to find a new doctor or physical therapist? Look for one who specializes in older adult health and any conditions you may have.
The good news here is that muscle patterning improves within days of starting a weight-lifting program, even without any increase in muscle mass. This explains the 113% increase in strength experienced by the residents of the nursing home in Boston in the previously cited study. In a different study that specifically investigated this phenomenon, 67- to 81-year-old men lifted weights for six weeks while hooked up to electrodes that measured their nerve and muscle patterning (an electromyogram machine). The results showed that the men experienced a 25% increase in the patterning of the muscle along with a 35% increase in strength, all without significant increases in size.
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