Most retirement communities have fitness facilities of some kind – from standard workout equipment to hot tubs, saunas and swimming pools. Is having access to an on-site gym enough to keep seniors active? Not always. That’s where a personal trainer comes in.
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Personal trainers are a hot trend in senior living, one that’s worth adding to your checklist when looking for a retirement community for yourself or a loved one.
One misconception that people have about personal trainers is that the trainer will be athletic and young, someone who will push you to your limit, but that’s simply not the case.
65-year-old Ellen Guest told the New York Times that she was pleased to be matched up with Sharon Hill, a personal trainer who was only four years younger than herself. “I didn’t feel like I was going to have to live up to some 30-year-old’s idea of a workout. This was someone who would understand what it’s like when you’re older,” Guest says. That’s why, according to the New York Times, more and more seniors themselves are finding a second career as a personal trainer, helping their peers achieve fitness goals.
Indeed, it’s important to select a personal trainer that you’re comfortable working with who has the experience and specialized knowledge needed to work with aging adults. The International Council on Active Aging has released an “Age-Friendly Personal Fitness Trainer Checklist,” which is worth using to ensure that you find a personal trainer who is a good match to help you meet your fitness goals.
Having someone come to you with equipment is one advantage of using a personal trainer, but there are others. A personal trainer will work with you to help you create a customized plan that considers your age, health, personal goals and physical abilities.
When you work with a personal trainer, you have someone to hold you accountable and motivate you, but more importantly for seniors, someone who has the knowledge base to ensure a safe workout that strategically targets specific areas of the body.
While a group exercise class provides benefits like social interaction, combats loneliness and keeps seniors moving, it doesn’t provide the same targeted physical benefits. “In a group of 10 people a trainer can’t cater to each individual’s needs, and so they have to keep the program generalized,” Dull says. Working with a personal trainer, on the other hand, means you’re getting a one-on-one focused assessment that’s geared towards achieving your individual goals.
While personal trainers take a holistic and individualized approach, with aging adults some of the popular areas of focus include increasing balance and mobility. “Seniors are at an increased risk of falls because as we age we lose our lower body strength, which can cause balance problems, especially when walking or standing for long periods of time,” Dull says. “Many seniors live in fear of falling and so they limit themselves. Working on balance, coordination, hip stabilization and lower body strength can improve their quality of life.”
Improvements in balance and coordination aren’t the only benefits of working with a personal trainer. Dull and his team regularly see the mental benefits of exercise, citing improved hope, independence a sense of accomplishment and improved mood as some of the typical outcomes experienced by the seniors they work with. “The gains they experience gives them a new sense of self-esteem as they move more independently and safely,” he says.
Dull also says that setting achievable goals is an important part of the work he does with his seniors. Depending on the person he’s working with, those goals might include improving balance or standing independently.
“One woman wrote to thank us because she was so pleased with her husband’s progress.” Dull says. “Her husband is a paraplegic and it was difficult for him to sit up in bed on his own because he didn’t have the core strength that he needed. We worked with him on his core for a month and now he can move in bed independently and even change his shirt himself. This made a huge difference for him and his wife.”
Even if it’s improving from 10 to 12 reps, it’s important to see those little improvements on a regular basis, says Dull, who likes to ask clients ‘Let’s see what you can do today.’
“When you set small, meaningful goals you can achieve them quickly,” Dull says. “These little accomplishments keep people going; they can see the difference their effort is making and it encourages them to set new goals.”
“When you’re on your own you may not have the knowledge base, accountability or motivation to see results,” says John Dull, a personal trainer, registered nurse (R.N.) and Director of Membership for Forever Fit.
That’s why more and more retirement communities are adding personal trainers to their specialized staff. Others, like Care One, are using programs like Forever Fit, where personal trainers come in to visit residents on a regular basis. Forever Fit has Exercise Therapists who not only train individuals but also communicate directly with physicians so that they’re aware of any ongoing medical needs. “We have a facility where seniors can come to us, and we also go into retirement communities or even into people’s homes,” Dull explains.
Seniors who work one-on-one with a trainer in a gym have the benefit of using equipment like exercise machines, but that’s not a requirement. Many personal trainers bring portable equipment like bands, exercise balls and weights to the seniors they work with.
Do you think access to a personal trainer is an important resource for seniors living in a retirement community? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.