Although I’ve written about health and fitness for decades, I have a confession to make: I’ve never been even remotely sporty. I was the nerdy kid in school who forged notes to get out of gym class so I could read instead. In my 20s and 30s, when those around me were training for marathons and crushing their CrossFit WODs, I was creating a noticeable divot at one end of my couch from movie binges.
But then, I got older.
I approached the big 5-0 with newly creaking joints and stiffness, and suddenly, my body felt unloved and underutilized. I began to move more, doing some runs and yoga classes, and got hooked. And, it appears, I’m not alone.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, one of the biggest fitness “trends” that’s unlikely to fade is fitness for older adults. In a survey, the organization noted that these seniors are retiring healthier than previous generations, and there are more highly active older people.
Those, like me, who start exercising “later” in life — whether that means 50, 60, 70 or even beyond — often have a certain set of concerns that younger folks don’t have. Our balance isn’t as great, our coordination is off, our flexibility might be lacking, issues related to weight or heart health may be complicating factors, and hormone regulation and bone density are certainly more top-of-mind than for a 20-something.
But even with those issues, you really are never too old to kickstart your fitness. If you’re a senior (or will be soon), here are some tips for starting your exercise journey:
CONSIDER GROUP CLASSES
Although it’s helpful to consult with a personal trainer — and especially check with your doctor regarding potential limitations — there’s also value in getting together with a group of people for exercise, especially if they’re around your age.
“Many older people who haven’t exercised may not know what it feels like to be in a community like that,” says Aaron Leventhal, NSCA certified personal trainer and owner of Fit Studios in Minneapolis. “But it can go a long way toward keeping you motivated, checking in on your progress and sharing thoughts about how everyone is doing.”
CHAT WITH A PROFESSIONAL
If you’re new to a class, arrive early to speak with the teacher about what to expect, advises Leventhal. He or she may be able to give you appropriate modifications or suggest the best place to situate yourself in the room. For example, if you struggle with balance, you may want to sit near a wall in a beginning yoga class so you have more support during sequences.
You can also interview personal trainers to find one who’s a good fit. Not all trainers are well suited for older clients and may not be as savvy about age-related issues as you’d like. Talk to them about your concerns or expectations, and find a trainer who makes you feel motivated and enthusiastic from the start, Leventhal says.
“You should have a teacher or trainer who makes you feel safe and supported,” he notes. “If you don’t feel like that, find someone else.”
THINK OUTSIDE THE GYM
Although classes and personal training are helpful, keep in mind that upping your activity shouldn’t be limited to when you can get to the gym, suggests certified personal trainer Chris DiVecchio of Premier Mind & Body.
“Research has shown that most aging issues with areas like shoulders, knees, hips and back can be mitigated with a proactive approach that requires more mindfulness around your daily habits,” he says. “Paying attention to body position when you sleep, sit, stand and walk can be very useful.”
That focus on how you’re moving can make you better when it comes to exercise form and technique, he adds. Also, prompt yourself to move more often in general. Park further away from stores when you run errands, take the stairs instead of the escalator, walk a few laps around the living room during commercials — incorporating these “movement snacks” into your day can help you get fitter faster.