We are all going to age. However, the quality with which we age is vastly varied. One of the best ways to age with grace and dignity is to keep exercising. Uncertain where to start? Well, The Annette Kellerman Aquatic and Leisure centre is a great resource to begin your exploration..
Today I attended the "Gentle Circuit" class taught by Sonia.
Sonia is a friendly trainer with a great grasp on exercise for seniors of varying ability. The class went for 45 minutes, and would be applicable for anyone who is able to do brisk walking for that time period. From memory, a pensioner's casual entry is affordable and around $10.
The warm-up involved 2 minutes of walking around a small, indoor circuit followed by sidestepping for 1 lap, first in one direction, then in the opposite direction. Sidestepping is a great way to strengthen the gluteus minimus and medius muscles, both important muscles for preventing falls. It was great to hear the participants point out to themselves, out loud, that they noticed different kinesthetic asymmetries. "Wow, it's a lot harder in that direction." This is useful information, and a great way to improve one's ability to strengthen the muscles that allow standing on 1 leg. Why is this important? Well, the inability to stabilize oneself on a single leg can predict the risk of falls.
A series of balancing exercises followed. These were land based, safe exercises that included toe raises, head nods, and hip mobility rotations while standing on 1 leg and supported by the wall..
Then, the group moved to resistance training. Sonia had set up multiple stations for resistance-based exercise on machines. These included arm press ups, leg extensions and squats. Resistance exercises are a great way for seniors to place stress on their musculoskeletal system, which helps maintain bone density and muscle tone.
"One lady reported increasing her bone mineral density, " Sonia shared. She said this to me as an aside, and traded quips with participants in the class.
While some of the exercises performed on machines were not textbook in terms of their effectiveness, they certainly were attended to with vigour, which is probably more important from a practical standpoint. A few minutes were spent at each station and Sonia was able to correct technique from time to time. For newbies, some of the more seasoned veterans offered advice on proper performance of the exercise, too. One had the brass to correct me on my technique when, unwittingly, I sat upon an exercise ball to rest. "You're doing it wrong. You need to sit up tall and lift one leg off of the ground at a time to work the core. It's about balance." She was right.
After a few advancements through the stations, the group relocated to the cardio equipment. The Elliptical, treadmill, exercise bikes and rowing machines were all available.
A second round on the resistant equipment was followed again by another few minutes of cardio. Sonia even sported boxing equipment for some participants, who, quite frankly, punch with authority. This preceded more floor based exercises. Some of these were traditional "core" exercises, supine bridges, abdominal work and general strengthening work that create movement through the body's centre of mass.
By the end of the class, everyone had worked within a safe level of cardiovascular exercise and the endorphins kicked in to drown any earlier complaints of osteoarthritis. The structure of the class allowed for variety and constant change, so that if anyone was perplexed by a particular type of movement, it was not long before they were on to the next pattern, the next exercise, the next form of exertion. Furthermore, each exercise worked within the individual's limits. The group laughed a lot, which made it welcoming for everyone.
I've been told that the most well attended classes at the centre are the aqua aerobics classes. People enjoy the low impact exercise and view it as more helpful. While any exercise can be healthy, from a certain perspective, land based exercise is more useful. For example, let us consider Sonia's statement, "One lady says she's improved her bone mineral density."
This statement can only apply to land based exercise. The force of gravity acting on our musculoskeletal system pulses blood through our bony structure; our framework quite literally has pipe-like plumbing that will be worked more effectively when force is applied to it. Hence, the resistance exercise is great to help us maintain this density. Furthermore, land based exercises are more functional in our day to day life. Falls, which are nightmare scenarios for our aging loved ones, need a prevention strategy that is practical and applicable to everyday life. Land based exercises trump aqua aerobic exercise on this level. The gentle circuit class combines the right amount of resistance in a safe environment. If you have an aging loved one, I can safely recommend contacting Sonia and joining her class in Marrickville on Monday at 11:45am and Wednesday at 11:00am.
By Dr. Matt Bulman, Chiropractor