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Many trying to “get in shape” have difficulty maintaining a program because they try to make all the changes at one time. Going it alone for many can be embarrassing, overwhelming and confusing. Consider an approach which allows you time to learn and adapt to each change you should take to reach your goals.
Before taking any steps forward, be sure to establish goals using the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) With my mature clients, getting a “six pack” set of abs is not a goal they aim for. Feeling good again, increasing strength and energy, eliminating back pain and improving balance as well as getting off prescription drugs is what most look to achieve. Sometimes a change in activity or diet can have an effect on the drugs you may be taking, so, speak with your doctor before beginning.
With people of any age, there are five easy steps to making health and fitness changes stick. Focus on one of these sections per week to allow yourself time to learn what is needed for your individual ability, goals and needs.
Week 1: Adopt a healthy eating plan. This is most important and the one thing under your direct control ALL THE TIME. Make sure you know how many calories you need each day for your current weight, any weight you wish to lose and activity levels. Create a meal plan for two weeks. Know what you will be eating and if need be, schedule one or two treat days in there in order to avoid bing eating.
Week 2: Add cardiovascular training. Walking, swimming, biking, hiking Zumba are all types of cardio. Begin slowly and gradually raise your heart rate to an appropriate range for your ability and fitness condition. You can also break up your exercise into small 10 minute segments to begin and aim for at least 5 days of cardiovascular activity per week.
Week 3: Add resistance training three days per week. Resistance training is key for developing muscle strength, muscle endurance, bone health, increasing energy, burning fat and improving balance and posture. You can use weight machines, free weights, resistance bands and even body weight. Again, start out light and perform a range of 15 to 20 repetitions choosing to work on proper form first. After a period of 4 to 6 weeks, increase the weight you use and work on improving muscle strength. As with all areas of fitness, you have to constantly change each 4 to 6 weeks (sometimes longer depending upon a person’s abilities and health condition) in order for the body to condition and develop.
Week 4: Include Metabolic Training or sometimes called Cardio-Metabolic Training. Sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? Even with clients in their 60’s and 70’s, this type of training technique holds value. Think along the lines of jumping jacks, or jump rope, kettle bell swings and the like. Although at times highly modified for body mechanics, these exercises can help condition the body quickly while improving balance, agility and even power. What is the pay-off? The better conditioned the body is to move in all dimensions, the more functional that body moves when stressed. A better conditioned body will handle situations when it is thrown off balance. In the event of a fall too, a better conditioned body will experience less injury and/or recover more quickly. Although intense, this can be an option open to most.
Step 5: Progression. In most cases, clients new to exercise will not progress much until week 6 or even 8. The fact is, long periods of being sedentary as well as placing years of stress on the body require time to reverse the damage. One primary focus in training is to correct muscle imbalances. One usually can’t do this on their own without knowing where an imbalance exists. It’s for this reason it is suggested people take their time when performing new exercises. Perform within your limitations and consider investing in a trainer with credentials which focus on muscle imbalance correction. As mentioned before, you need to change your training to make the body adapt to the stresses placed upon it. Doing the same routine as always counts for being active, but does little in achieving a more functional level of fitness and health.
In week 5, however, be sure to have included a proper stretching and flexibility routine, training for deep core muscles (not just the abdominals) and balance exercises. These are components many either ignore, train little of or do not know how to implement but can learn in training and in structured classes like Silver Sneakers.
The human body is an amazing machine. Even after years of abuse, it can restore itself and function efficiently. Never think you are too old, to hurt or too anything to try being more active and living a more independent life.
Fred S. Como, BS, CPT
Weight Loss Specialist, Personal and
Group Trainer, Health Coach, owner of
OneSource Wellness Coaching, LLC