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The Missing Link For Wellness With Middle Age And Older Adults

Recently there have been several new research studies that report sitting for long periods of time can be extremely detrimental to your health.

While this doesn’t come at a real surprise, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the so called solutions currently being presented by the fitness industry to help people become more active.

I believe we’re on the verge of seeing fitness trends shifting and the way people look at exercise changing. For no other reason than the current paradigm failing to truly deliver the results people are looking for.

In today’s post we’ll dig into why I believe so many of the fitness offerings are failing and what the missing link is for wellness with middle age and older adults.

More after the jump…

For starters, I want to make sure I clarify why I’m identifying the missing link for middle age and older adults, and not with all age groups.

The majority of fitness offerings are targeted for the twenty to thirty something year old population, with most health clubs and home workout DVD’s designed for this demographic. When you’re younger just about any physical activity can be effective, yes even sitting down on machines to workout in a health club.

The body is still somewhat limber at that point, having not succumb to the years of chronic stress, sitting too much, a poor diet, etc. In other words, while a younger adult may be out of shape, they’re likely not dealing with significant limitations in movement and mobility.

They probably don’t even think about sitting down to put on their socks or other things you take for granted until you get older. From an exercise standpoint, just about anything will do. Some cardio on the treadmill and some strength training on the machines and they’re good to go.

Unfortunately the typical health club workout routines won’t be as effective for someone in their forties and beyond. More on that in a minute.

When you really step back and look at what’s trending in the fitness industry right now for weight loss and body transformation it’s things like CrossFit, Insanity, P-90x, etc. The common denominator it seems is on “hard core” or “extreme” workouts.

While there’s certainly benefit to high intensity workouts, the issue is on whether or not an individual is ready for the activity, how much of it they’re doing, and how much recovery is provided.

The reason I think we’ll start to see the trend of “hard core” workouts fade to some degree is because the needle keeps pushing towards the extreme. It’s like the idea of a workout being effective depends on people lying on the floor when they’re done. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In fact, I’ll argue that training this way will be counterproductive in the end, especially for older adults. Look when you’re in your twenties and early thirties you can put your body through repeated high intensity workouts and don’t need as much recovery. When you’re older 2-3 higher intensity workouts a weeks is plenty.

We’re just now learning more and more about the impacts of chronic stress, and make no mistakes, high intensity workouts are stress. There needs to be a balance. A little bit of physiological stress helps to make the body resilient and strong, too much breaks it down and leads to degeneration.

As you may well know I’m a leading proponent of “burst training” workouts. You may be thinking this is a little hypocritical of me to be diminishing high intensity workouts, but I’m really not.

Short bursts of high intensity activity are extremely beneficial from a physiological standpoint, the key components being they’re brief in nature and the individual is doing a suitable activity for their level of function, plus having adequate rest and recovery in between workouts.

For someone who can’t or shouldn’t be sprinting, this may be short intervals on a rower, stationary bike, swinging a kettlebell, hitting a heavy bag, etc. Not everyone should be doing sprints, plyo box jumps, or Olympic lifts with a barbell for example. Many de-conditioned middle age adults who wander into a CrossFit class or start doing P-90x are finding this out the hard way.

By jumping right into high intensity activity, strength training exercises, and the like without a foundation for movement and mobility, they’re significantly increasing the likelihood for injury or burnout.

This keeps chiropractors and physical therapists happy with feeding them new clients, but certainly isn’t helping the individual who just wanted to feel better, move better, and drop a few pounds.

My point is that everything from the typical commercial health club of today, CrossFit training, hard-core home workout DVD’s, and other popular venues for fitness are failing older populations.

In all fairness, there are some highly knowledgeable CrossFit coaches who understand proper exercise progression and are creating specific classes for prep work, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

The fundamental problem is you can only scale a workout so much and there’s always going to be limitations when throwing an entire group of people into a series of exercises. People have different needs and their own individual set of possible dysfunction with movement patterns, previous injuries, etc.

This may sound like I’m bashing CrossFit, P-90x and the like but I’m really not. Like anything else there’s a time, place, and right fit for any exercise modality. These types of workouts were certainly a breath of fresh air to an industry that had seemingly lost its way with gyms and health clubs being more of social centers than gyms of yesterday.

The old school gym was built around the idea of movement with people doing calisthenics, body weight exercises, free weight training, and the like. At some point this shifted to people doing exercises while sitting their butt down on a bunch of machines!

So the problem is we’re sitting too much behind our desks, at the wheel of our cars, etc, and we’re going to make this better somehow by going to a health club and sitting down some more. This never made much sense to me.

Naturally I was happy to see things like CrossFit help re-shift people’s thinking with what exercise is really supposed to be and what it means to be fit. Unfortunately, as a whole this segment of the fitness industry has taken something good and pushed it to the extremes.

In the process, the populations who need the MOST help with exercise and stress relief aren’t being best served. There are a lot of twenty and thirty somethings getting in great shape and having lean, ripped, bodies to show as a testament for the effectiveness, but what about the older populations?

Granted there are always exceptions and sure I know there are a lot of middle age and older adults who will say that CrossFit, P-90x and the like has changed their life. My point is that for every one of these success stories there are 4-5 individuals dropping out of that kind of exercise altogether due to injury, burnout, or simply fatigue from being beat down constantly.

On the surface this may seem like I’m making a case for personal fitness training, after all that’s the niche of the fitness industry I fill. But even personal training can be part of the problem if coaches don’t use smart exercise prescription with proper progression and regression.

The solution, fix, or “missing link,” as I see it doesn’t have anything to do with a particular service or niche in the fitness industry. While professional guidance, instruction, and assistance from a knowledgeable coach is always helpful, you don’t need to pay anyone or even have a gym membership to get it.

What is the “it” factor or missing link I speak of?


That’s right, the one thing the middle age and older adults need MORE than anything else is movement. It’s not stretching, it’s not strength training, it’s not cardio or any of that. Yeah, these are all helpful and fundamental blocks of fitness, but at the foundation there’s pure and simple human movement.

If you’re stiff, lack energy, and your body has become soft and flabby from sitting too much, having too much stress, a poor diet, etc, the mindset is typically one of “I need to head to the gym or buy that home workout DVD.”

By running headlong right into strength training and impact exercises that loads the joints, you’re only going to be building on top of an unstable foundation. Matters certainly aren’t made any better just because you’re sitting down to do the majority of your exercises.

You’ve got to be able to MOVE first. A lot of the new research is showing how fascia, which provides structure for all the tissue in the body even down to the cellular level, becomes stiff and rigid over prolonged periods of time when the body is lacking in oxygen, hydration, and movement.

The best way to improve your health and wellness, other than obviously eating natural foods, is to move your body, increase oxygen uptake, and release some of that built up stress.

You pick the activities, do what you enjoy, just don’t skip over movement and mobility before jumping right into higher intensity exercise.

I know you want to see results quick, we’re an instant gratification society, but you can see far greater changes in your physique from dietary shifts, than any amount of exercise in the beginning anyways.

The pitfall is frequently trying to do too much exercise, or jumping into activities you’re not ready for. Go back to the basics. If you have trouble bending over to put your socks on, do you really think it’s a good idea to start trying to build strength on that foundation?

Listen to your instincts. You’ve lost the ability to do certain activities not because you weren’t in the health club sitting down to exercise on a bunch of machines, but rather because you stopped MOVING as much.

Sitting too much, being overly stressed, following a poor diet, all these things lead to degeneration and a body that’s stiff and doesn’t move as well. The way to reverse it….start moving in ways that you can.

Don’t fret over trying to strengthen your core, strengthen this muscle and stretch another. There’s a time and place for that, but a lot of issues can be sorted out on their own by simply moving.

You don’t need a single piece of equipment, gym membership, or video. Go back to doing the basic movements you did as a kid. Crawl, climb over, climb under, play, have fun.

Somewhere along the line with becoming adults we left all of this behind. I’m making a call to bring it back. Don’t just take the kids to the park, join in with them. Get outside, soak up some sunlight, take your shoes off and go barefoot.

Bottom line is movement is everything for mobility and function. You build strength and endurance on top of movement, not the other way around.

Do what your body allows you do and don’t think about form, technique, and how many sets or reps when you’re “playing.” Kids don’t, why should you? I’m telling you there’s more benefit to crawling on all fours, walking across a log, bending, reaching, and just moving your body than any other activity you could do.

You want to do yoga, Pilates, strength training, cardio workouts, or whatever, by all means let’s do it. Just don’t feel like you have to always have structure with exercise every day of the week. Get outside and be active regularly, doing whatever it is you enjoy to do.

As fitness professionals my coaches and I at Shaping Concepts are increasingly putting more emphasis on movement with our clients being a prerequisite before strength training and other high intensity activity.

Come into our facility and you just may see a middle age adult crawling across the floor and doing things that more resemble recess or a physical education class of yesteryear than “gym exercises.”

There’s good reason for it. With movement comes a body that not only feels better, but is also better prepared for higher intensity activity.

If you’re a middle age or older adult I encourage you to revisit the basics. Go watch some kids playing and attempt to do some of the things you seem them doing. Granted you’re not going to be able to do everything, but I betcha you can crawl, climb over and under things, etc.

You’d be surprised just how much the basic human movements will get your heart rate up and leaving you feeling like you did a workout. The cool thing is you won’t even feel like you’re exercising.

Movement…it’s the missing link for wellness with middle age and older adults.

Go get you some! God bless- S

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up today for a no obligations consultation.

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Category: Shane's Commentary.