Joining a gym in advancing years may seem a step (class) too far, but increasingly there are sessions and personal trainers with specific expertise and knowledge to help older people keep fit and healthy. GPs are also referring people to particular courses under an initiative called the “Exercise Referral Scheme”. While there may be a bit more paperwork to complete in terms of medical forms etc., joining a gym can be a great idea.
The exercise referral scheme is for people with particular medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis and back pain; and for those who have problems with weight management or moderate stress or depression. It is a great way for an elderly relative to take some regular, managed exercise, under the guidance of their GP.
How to join
To join the scheme, visit the GP, practice nurse or other health care professional to check for eligibility and to be referred and to complete the referral form required to sign up. Your GP will be able to direct you to the local gym running the scheme which will be overseen by qualified exercise professional. The most widely available is a 12 session exercise plan. The first session is free of charge, when new starters have a consultation with an instructor who will review the referral form. After ths, the instructor will design a bespoke programme depending on indvidual needs.
An instructor takes every single session and once the programme is completed, there are options to sign up with the gym or they will suggest other ways of reaching personal goals. The referral scheme is a great way of breaking down the barrier of going to the gym because, with an instructor on hand to help and support a new member, after a couple of weeks, hopefully the fear factor of actually going to the gym goes away. It is recommended to start with 1 to 2 sessions a week.
If your elderly parent just wants to join a gym independently of any referral scheme, then here are a few thoughts to consider:
Before Getting Started
- Chest pain or pain in the left arm and neck.
- Any shortness of breath.
- A heart condition.
- Any bone or joint problems.
- Any unexplained dizziness or fainting.
- Or if they are currently taking blood pressure or cardiac medications.
Picking A Gym
Shop around for the right gym. Ask for a free trial day to see if it’s the right one. You might also have a conversation with the membership team about their staff and any relevant qualifications some of them may have. Completing the medical forms might feel a bit of an ordeal for your parent particularly if there are a few things to put on it! Discuss it with the membership team too.
Induction To The Gym
It can be confusing, difficult and even intimidating when new to the gym. Hopefully the induction programme should make it all clear, but popular gym equipment to get started might include:
- Cycling bike
- Cross trainer
- Stair climb
- Rowing machine
Hiring a Personal Trainer
It might be worth hiring a personal trainer for the first few gym sessions to ensure your elderly parent is using the equipment correctly. Personal trainers are great for support, they can help omplete the moves correctly and ensure the right standng and seating positions when carrying out these workouts.
Other benefits include your elderly parent having more awareness of their own personal limits, learn more about the equipment and what part of the body it works, so that they are less likely to injure themselves – aswell as the all important workout plan to keep track of progress and to give them something to aim for.
The personal trainer should recommend some of the more ideal exercises. Workouts may well start off as low impact gradually moving towards more challenging exercises as fitness improves.
If the machines in the gym aren’t quite the thing for parents but they still want to take some exercise in a gym then low impact and lower intensity activities such as yoga, pilates, swimming and aqua aerobics can all be great for increasing cardio-vascular fitness. They also help to ease back pain and other muscular problems. Other moderate aerobic activities include:
- Fast paced walking
- Water aerobics
- Cycling on level ground
- Playing doubles tennis
How often to exercise?
According to NHS Choices, people over the age of 65 who are ‘generally fit and have no health conditions’ should aim to be active every day! Like the rest of us, older people should try to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercises such as cycling or walking every week. Along with this, they should try to carry out strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscle areas like legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulder and arms.
We all know that extended periods of inactivity are not good for anyone and this gets worse particularly on muscles and joints as you age. Keeping fit and active is great for the body and for the mind, as well as a good way to maintain a social life. It is argued that as we get older if we exercise regularly we are less likely to be at risk of developing illnesses such as type two diabetes, depression, dementia and some forms of cancer.
Also as we age, our metabolism slows down, meaning chemical reactions happen slower in the body. In addition to this, the lower people’s muscle mass is, the slower their metabolism is likely to be. Therefore, it becomes easier to put weight on as we get older. Having a workout schedule and balanced diet will help maintain body weight and speed up the metabolism.
Studies and Evidence
Research undertaken in Norway (published in the British Medical Journal), found that by completing 30 minutes of exercise 6 days a week, you can increase your life expectancy by up to 5 years (which may or may not be a good thing depending on your point of view). Other evidence suggests that if elderly people want to stay pain free, reduce their chances of mental illnesses and be able to go out and stay independent well in to their old age they are advised to keep moving, even if it’s just around the home.
There are tons of gyms around aimed at giving older people the experience of a healthy gym lifestyle. More and more gyms offer classes specifically aimed at elderly people and their needs. Group exercise classes like yoga and pilates are perfect for older people. Fitting in with a group at a class may make them feel more comfortable and develop their confidence in staying active.