CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every week I search through a library of inspiring music to choose just the right CD. I grab a bottle of cool water and walk toward a room filled with 40 to 50 of my favorite people. As I enter, I am greeted with hugs and smiles and the kind of eye contact that speaks volumes. They're polite, interested -- and more important -- these SilverSneaker members show up with devout intention and focus.
Morning at the YMCA means lively older adults, ranging in age from 65 to 97, arrive with well-worn, hopeful hearts and a keen sense of humor.
My experience as a fitness instructor goes back far enough to practically make me one of them. I've taught every kind of class the fitness industry could dream up, from dance aerobics, to step, to spin, to group strength and everything in between. But no class or group of health-seekers has ever had such a profound effect on my desire to teach and to impact the aging process.
SilverSneakers has several class format options but muscular strength and range of movement is the first and most consistently attended classes offered. The exercises are designed to improve strength, joint integrity, flexibility and balance.
At first glance, this primarily seated class tends to make some more-fit seniors squirm, assuming that it lacks challenge. However, upon completion, they realize the value of this format because it meets people where they are. The amount of resistance varies according to each participant's capabilities and challenge is always present.
So, as they age, what should older adults expect with regard to energy, strength and mental wellness? Perceptions and expectations about how life should be as we age are evolving with an understanding that a dull, sedentary existence is far from natural. In fact, vibrant seniors are on the rise -- as evidenced in my MSROM class. Countless are ready to try more, do more and live more.
To expect to age energetically, it helps to know what strategies are in place to support this. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released new physical activity guidelines for adults in 2008 that recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. Adults age 65 and older should follow these same guidelines when it is within their physical capacity.
If a chronic condition prohibits that, older adults should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. If they are at risk of falling, they should also do exercises that maintain or improve balance. The American College of Sports Medicine agrees and adds for even greater health benefits, increase duration, frequency and intensity.