More Senior Fitness
by Jim Ganley
The mature man or woman hoping to improve their health and appearance via an exercise program may be laboring under a number of unrealistic expectations and false assumptions. Leading the list would be that such a makeover will be quick and easy. Au contraire. Unless one’s quest for self improvement is a priority based upon a complete lifestyle overhaul, achievement of goals is unlikely. Not long ago IHRSA (International Health & Racquet Sports Assoc.) stated that only one out of twelve adults starting a fitness plan will persist long enough to show any improvement at all. That’s nearly a 95% failure rate. Professionals in any other industry, be they in medicine or law, having a 95% failure rate would not be long in business. Somehow the fitness industry has been allowed a pass regarding the dearth of favorable outcomes.
The greatest misconception in fitness is the myth of rapid progress. Many of us have fallen for this because of the televised infomercials we have seen, which make wild claims, unverifiable by controlled scientific studies. The facts lead us in an altogether different direction. In simple terms, if it took us several years to gain fifty pounds of lard, there’s no way we should be expecting to rectify the problem in a couple of weeks.
Running a close second in the realm of fitness misconceptions is that strength training will cause one’s muscles to swell up to mind boggling proportions and dimensions and that it will make the athletes among us slow, stiff, and uncoordinated.
"I only want to tone up, not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger," I have been told by more than one misinformed person. I’ll mention that such an outcome, if it were to happen at all, does not happen by accident, going on to explain that today’s champion athletes all do strength training as well as taking performance enhancing drugs.
"But that’s against the law," they protest.
"So is cocaine and heroin," I’ll counter, "but that does nothing to deter those so inclined."
Other obstacles to the senior in quest of health enhancement are attributable to the accelerated rate of decline part and parcel of a sedentary lifestyle, most of which have been touched upon in prior articles. What this means is that many of us are in far worse shape than we think.
Balance problems are epidemic among the aging baby boomers. As a remedy, those in the field of physical medicine have coined the term "Core Stabilization", which refers to one’s ability to maintain proper posture not only while standing or sitting , but while moving. This may be subcategorized into static and dynamic posture. In a nutshell, the muscles of the abdomen and lower back are designed to work in concert with the hips and thighs in maintaining a stable alignment of the body. Much of this is discussed in the book, Total Body Training by Dr. Dick Dominguez and Bob Gajda.
Many years ago I attended a conference on core stabilization, but didn’t understand its importance. The reason was that because of the exercises my friends and I had done since our teen years, poor balance and instability were never an issue. Not so with the general population.
Then I read an article by former Johns Hopkins University Strength Coach, Bill Starr about its importance. As the simplest means of addressing the problem of poor stability he suggested balancing on one leg while maintaining an upright posture with neutral spine. The same drill was recommended by Dominguez and Gajda. To me this made more sense than some of the avante garde protocols I have seen going on in the "wellness centers" I have visited where people are placed on an inflatable ball and expected to lift weights.
Most unfit adults experience difficulty lying on a stable bench without listing off to one side or even falling completely off the bench. Expecting them to function optimally while on an unstable sphere borders on criminal negligence. There was even one occasion that I recall witnessing an elderly man falling off a stationary exercise bike, though this may have been aggravated by the "three martini lunch" he had in the upstairs bar and lounge before his workout.
Other problems faced by the aging baby boomer are poor proprioception and low kinesthetic awareness, both of which make it difficult to duplicate exercises as demonstrated by their trainer.
What’s needed is a way to make the fitness quest both achievable and sustainable. Here is an example of how complicated the situation has become.
"JIM! Y’GOTTA HELP ME! I’M GAINING WEIGHT AND CAN’T STOP MYSELF!"
It was a former client, and from the tone of his voice I could tell that he was under great stress. He had stopped seeing me several years prior when it became obvious that he was losing weight and demonstrating measurable improvement. He had been a couch potato since that time. But now he was in the worst shape that I had ever seen him. When we met, as though swearing a solemn vow, he told me he was going to quit drinking alcohol, stop smoking, start exercising, eat health food, and lose the 75 pounds he had gained in the interim. I knew right then and there that I was witnessing a train wreck in progress.
"Let’s take this one step at a time and make haste slowly," I suggested, going on to map out a plan in which he did the exercise, and would deal with the other problems at a later date. The major difficulty with this client, as well as with others seeking improved health and fitness, they don’t want it now, the expect it yesterday and with minimal effort. Ironically, had I been peddling magic pills with a bedtime story, I could have retired a couple of decades ago.