Senior Strength and Fitness Tips for Older Adults To Get Fit


When you think about reaching your weight loss goals, what do you hear your inner voice say? Do you hear, “I’ll never succeed”? How about, “I can lose the weight, but I won’t keep it off”? In the words of Henry Ford, “If you think you can do it, or you think you can’t do it, you are right.” Your personal self talk is a very powerful indicator of your success in reaching your weight loss goals, or any goals for that matter. So, how do you set yourself up for success?

First, you have to listen to yourself to see exactly what it is you are saying. Most of our self talk happens subconsciously so we are not overtly aware of our internal dialogue. It happens “behind the scenes”. Thus, you are not consciously aware of what you are saying and, subsequently, hearing. Make sure to pay attention. When you think about changing a behavior to assist you in your weight loss efforts, what do you hear yourself saying internally? Are you positive, encouraging and optimistic? Or, are you treating yourself the way an abusive parent treats a child or an abusive partner treats his or her mate? Are you demeaning, discouraging and negative? If the latter is what you hear yourself saying, it is no wonder your goals have eluded you. But, read on. There is hope!

Once you realize that you are speaking to yourself in a negative manner, you have to stop the thoughts. Stop them right when they begin. The absolute moment you become aware that you are speaking to yourself in less-than-supportive terms, say “stop” to your inner voice. If you wish, say it out loud to reinforce that you are not going to let your inner self talk direct to your outer self in a negative manner. Also, be aware of your surroundings before you say too much out loud. If you are in the middle of a meeting or church, for instance, you may choose to keep it inside your head. Of course, you can still say it out loud. Just be prepared for the consequences.

When you say it, say it like you mean it. Do not give a wimpy, mousy little “stop”. Give a loud, ear smashing, peace breaking, destroy-the-universe-with-my-voice “STOP!!!!” Stand up to yourself for yourself. Tell your inner, subconscious mind that you are done being abused. You will not take it from anyone else and you certainly are not taking it from yourself!

Finally, replace the negative thought with a positive one. Tell yourself you can do it. Tell yourself you will succeed. Become your own cheerleader. After all, if you do not believe in yourself, why would anyone else? At the same time, you have to believe what you are saying, so it is very important that you be honest with yourself. Remind yourself that reaching your goals is going to take a lot of hard work and effort. Remind yourself that you will experience pitfalls and hurdles along the way. Also, remind yourself that you have experienced obstacles before and successfully navigated them. What lies before you is not insurmountable.

It will take time for you to change the way you talk to yourself. Chances are that you have been belittling, demeaning and downright mean to yourself for years. Now is not the time to beat yourself up even more for beating yourself up to begin with. You have to start treating yourself the way you would treat a friend. Give yourself kindness and dignity and respect. Support yourself in your endeavors. When you start doing that, you will soon realize your goals are within your reach. Believe in yourself. I do! Twenty years ago if anyone in the fitness community wanted to train or coach someone who was a senior athlete you had little to rely on besides some basic knowledge concerning the general population of all healthy individuals. If you desired to work with someone who was in their 80’s you would have had a difficult time finding reliable information. You also need to remember, we had no Internet. So we relied on journals and libraries. Another fact was that aging specialist in fitness were just beginning to pay attention to the Baby Boomers, who weren’t even 50 yet. The oldest was only 45. So the idea of aging was not a big issue yet. We had few if any specialized fitness organizations focused on our aging population. My average client was 82 years of age. I had to deal with a lot of skeptical people in the medical community who believed that all the normal symptoms of aging that we were dealing with such as:

  • Loss of lean muscle tissue
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle and joint range of motion.
  • Balance problems
  • Low energy

Were all part of the normal aging process. I was one of the few fitness professionals who had studied and specialized in aging, who rejected the status quo. The actual pioneer in this area was Maria A. Fiatarone, MD, assistant professor in Harvard Medical School’s Division on Aging. She was able to demonstrate with clinical research that was easily duplicated that most if not all of these so called normal symptoms of aging could be slowed down or even reversed in some cases. Dr. Fiatarone had the idea because of the fact that falling was such an issue with what she called the “very old”. She found that the idea of lack of strength being the cause had never been investigated. “It just made sense to try”, Dr. Fiatarone commented at the time. Remember this research was done over twenty years ago. Not only was it a tough sell to the medical community, it was an even tougher sell to this group of the very old, which I now refer to as “Beyond Boomers”.

I would like to refer to a personal story that I had during this time with my own grandmother. She had just turned 80 when I began my research in aging. Over the next few years as she began to lose control of her own life because of limitations placed on her by society and the medical community, although in her mind she was still more than capable mentally and physically. She was always the first one to lend support to many in her own age group. But this was not enough to deflect the pressures from society that she should “slow down” and to accept that it was OK because it was part of the normal aging process.

A few years later when actual physical challenges began to occur, again this was labeled as part of the process of aging. Please remember this was all being backed up by the medical community, whom she had faith in, and society, who told her she was “old”. As I began to encourage her more and more to continue being active and shared my research that she could slow down most of the physical challenges from aging, it fell mostly on deaf ears. She began to settle for the hand that life was going to deal her. In contrast, I became involved with a world of the “very old” or today’s Beyond Boomers, who weren’t willing to settle. They wanted to go down swinging. It was during this time that I realized the importance of believing you could achieve peak performance at any age. Also that it was never too late to decide to change your life.

Building Strength
I was able to easily demonstrate with groups of individuals whose average age was 82, that they could gain strength, increase ROM in muscles and joints; improve balance and increased energy was also reported. All of these measurements were achieved in controlled environments. The nice thing about all this was that I knew with certainty what was going to occur, because the research at the time was so clear. We discovered, as did many others that the earlier aging symptoms could be positively affected by following simple principles of building strength. All of these symptoms were shown to be directly related to muscle strength.

The System
Being an experienced lifter and athlete, I had extensive knowledge with various strength movements. All that I did was take basic strength exercises and strip away all the weights. This meant that the individuals would only use their own body as resistance. This was slightly different from Dr. Fiatarone, who used small cans as weights. It seemed almost too simple. But it worked. They knew they could do the program before they began. This was a huge barrier to cross. Let me remind you that my goal has always been to involve those who couldn’t do normal exercise programs or activities. This group began to have immediate success. We showed, with regular evaluation, significant improvement in all the areas mentioned.

  • Muscle Tissue – Percent body fat was measured
  • ROM of Joints and Muscle – Using simple ROM tests
  • Balance – One and two foot balance tests
  • Energy – Psychological evaluations were used

People were excited, as any of us would be in our own program. Results provided the needed motivation. At this point most began to feel confident to do other types of exercise and activity. They now had begun to experience an improved quality of life.

When comparing to what happens to a lot of younger individuals who after 4-8 weeks of starting a program are ready to quit because they don’t observe the necessary changes to motivate them to continue. When many times it may take a few more workouts to achieve these desired results. This has always been an area that having a “Quality Coach” can be invaluable. Your Coach can lead you across the finish line.

At this point we have created a habit. Most importantly we have tied it to success. We are motivated by pleasure, not pain. They now know they can improve. This is a huge psychological boost. I have observed individuals who were in their 70’s follow a regular strength program for over 15 years. The program has truly become their Fountain of Youth. An interesting fact is that most continue doing the program 5-6 days per week. Because it feels so good and it has been connected emotionally to significant improvements in their own life, it has just become part of their life.

What can we learn from this? The answer is clear; we can get physically stronger at any age. I think more importantly, don’t wait until you are 85 to create the habit of exercise. Why not find some exercise or activity to do today. At a younger age in a few months, with patience you will be looking and feeling better. So don’t wait, start moving today. But if you wait until 85 then maybe you’ll run into someone like me.

One last thought. For anyone in the fitness industry, take note of any company or industry who get out in front of this wave of people called “Baby Boomers”, and how successful they become. If you can find a way to add value to the Boomers and Beyond Boomers your client base will continue to expand for years to come.

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About Author

Arnie Fonseca

Arnie Fonseca, Jr has helped thousands of individuals over the past 30 years achieve their goals despite daunting challenges in their lives. He has spoken at both National and International conferences on topics ranging from Strength and Wellness to the treatment of Traumatic Spinal Cord and Brain injuries. See my profile page for more information!

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