Ask The Expert with Michelle Franks, Wellness Coordinator at Phoebe Berks

What are the top health- and fitness-related concerns for seniors?

Though there are many concerns facing seniors of all ages today, some of the primary concerns that we focus on when developing a wellness program are chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and osteoporosis. In addition, being prone to or likely to fall, or having a history of falls, is a major concern for many seniors, as falls can lead to other injuries. These conditions are taken into account when designing fitness classes, and when coaching individuals through their own wellness, and should be taken seriously when considering how to approach your personal health plan.

What usually discourages seniors from taking an active part in their own fitness?

There are several factors that can lead to older adults avoiding or ignoring personal fitness. Many people say they don’t have time—even in retirement, we can become busier than ever! And the many programs and social opportunities, not to mention volunteer engagements, available at Phoebe’s communities keep people very busy. This isn’t a bad thing! Any kind of activity that keeps you moving is good. But it’s important to make time for concentrated fitness activity. Even a couple hours a week can make a big impact on your health.

Many other seniors might feel intimidated by approaching personal fitness, especially if they’ve never exercised before or feel that it’s simply “not for them.” As a fitness coach, I can assure you there’s something for everyone. We design our classes and programs to suit a range of needs and physical abilities.

Finally, illness or ongoing health issues may lead someone to avoid exercise. This can be dangerous, as remaining inactive may actually exacerbate some conditions. Fitness programs at Phoebe are tailored to your needs and abilities as an individual. If you’re exercising on your own, consult with your physician or a trained fitness professional to discuss what exercises may benefit you and what you should avoid.

How do you address these factors as a fitness coach at Phoebe?

One of the most important things I do is encourage people to make exercise a priority, and teach them the benefits of exercise on their overall health. Moving is part of life! Incorporating fitness into your daily life has a huge impact on every other area of life, from sleep patterns to appetite and emotional well-being.

Another thing I’ve done is to introduce a “buddy system” as a socialization technique to encourage people to take part in fitness classes and keep them coming back. Pairing a new participant up with a more experienced and enthusiastic member is a good way to make them feel comfortable. Sometimes I pair up with them myself, too. When you have a buddy who is encouraging you to come every time, feelings of shyness, hesitation, and intimidation quickly disappear.

What are fitness classes at Phoebe designed to do?

Our wellness program is designed to offer a variety of options and fitness levels for individuals in all stages of their own fitness. Primarily, classes are created to increase strength, endurance, and flexibility, as well as the range of motion in the joints. Our exercises improve balance and help prevent falls by building core stability and confidence. All of these are important factors in senior health particularly, and activities in class can easily be adjusted for anyone with a particular condition.

How can seniors keep in shape at home?

Many of the things we do in classes at Phoebe are easy to do at home on your own. You can even follow a video guide available for purchase in stores, or for download online. In fact, many of our regular participants continue doing the exercises they’ve learned in class on their own time.

Some of the things you can do at home to promote personal fitness include riding a bike, walking, hiking, gardening, and even volunteering or attending local events. These activities keep you moving and working muscles and joints, and can easily be adapted for your own ability.

What are some resources for fitness at home for seniors (links online, recommended books or videos, ways to get locally involved)? 

Searching “senior fitness” on YouTube will yield a great selection of videos to choose from, all of them designed to help you stay active in the convenience of your own living room. I recommend Tona Barnes’ videos in the Senior Fitness by Tona series. You can see one here:

I can also recommend a great online article titled “9 Easy Exercises People 55+ Should Do Every Week” on the active retirement website called Life in the Golden Years. Click the link below to learn about these great at-home ways to get fit and stay active.