If there’s one, real-life fountain of youth, it is unquestionably physical fitness. Today’s seniors know that regular physical exercise allows them to keep disease at bay and remain physically active much longer than would be possible without regular exercise.
They also know that the type of exercises they perform, the frequency with which they exercise, and the methods for completing exercise are all as important as the exercises themselves, which is why focusing your personal training career on seniors may very well be a lucrative and rewarding endeavor.
The Value of Personal Training for Seniors
Physical fitness provides a wealth of health benefits, regardless of your age. However, seniors may enjoy unique benefits:
Being inactive is a risky prospect for seniors. Studies show that most seniors lose the ability to do things on their own because they are not active, not because they’ve aged. A lack of physical activity for seniors may result in more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more prescription medicine to deal with a number of illnesses.
A number of studies have shown that staying physically active and exercising regularly can help delay or even prevent the onset of many diseases and disabilities, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. It may also boost the immune system and digestive system.
Regular, moderate exercise for seniors has been shown to elevate mood, manage stress, increase cognitive function, help battle insomnia, and even reduce feelings of depression.
Exercise fights a slowing metabolism due to age by increasing metabolism and building muscle mass, which helps burn more calories.
Regular exercise through a structured personal training program can provide seniors with a host of other benefits, including:
- Increased endurance: Aerobic activities, such as walking and gardening, are made easier
- Increased muscle strength: Activities requiring muscle strength, such as carrying groceries and climbing the stairs, are made easier
- Increased balance: Prevents falls and the disability that may result from falling
- Increased flexibility: Allows for more freedom of movement when accomplishing everyday activities
What you Should Know about Training Physically Active Seniors
Seniors are ideal candidates for personal training programs, as they need to be sure that the exercise they are engaging in is both effective and safe. This client base may also need additional guidance throughout the process to ensure that goals are being met and that safety is always considered.
Therefore, before engaging your senior clients in a personal training program, you should take the following into consideration:
You should be sure that your clients have received a medical clearance before starting a personal training program, particularly if they have a pre-existing condition.
You should always keep in mind how your clients’ ongoing health problems may affect their workouts. For example, your senior clients with diabetes will likely need to adjust the timing of their medications or check their blood sugar before, during, or after their training session.
Starting out slow and slowing building a training program is always the best choice when training seniors. A slow warm-up and cool-down, for example, is likely in order, as is ensuring clients are hydrated throughout their training session.
Encourage your senior clients to commit to an exercise schedule and keep their focus on short-term goals so as to keep them interested and motivated.
Be hyper vigilant of any problems, and encourage your clients to immediately inform you if they:
- Feel dizzy
- Feel short of breath
- Develop chest pain or pressure
- Break out in a cold sweat
- Experience any type of pain
What Does a Personal Training Program for Seniors Look Like?
Two fitness programs designed specifically to meet the unique needs of active seniors and older adults have risen to prominence in recent years:
- Silver&Fit Exercise and Healthy Aging Program
- Healthways Silver Sneakers Fitness Program
These national programs have worked to establish professional standards of knowledge required of trainers working with senior citizens, and have developed specialized cardiovascular and strength building routines with the input of gerontologists and other experts on aging. Fitness clubs, exercise centers and individual trainers across the country now offer specialized services to senior citizens in strict accordance with the standards set by these national organizations. This means that no matter where they may live, senior citizens can locate a Silver&Fit or Silver Sneakers authorized trainer to provide specialized one-on-one and group fitness instruction specifically designed with their safety and well-being in mind. These programs have met such rigorous standards that eligible seniors can use Medicare Advantage/Supplement benefits to cover the cost of services offered through authorized facilities.
Whether or not Silver&Fit or Silver Sneakers authorized programs are available at the facility you work for, there are a number of elements you should always attempt to incorporate into your senior clients’ personal training sessions:
- Cardio Endurance: Using large muscle groups in rhythmic motions over a period of time; includes exercises such as walking, stair climbing, swimming, cycling, etc.
- Strength Training: Builds up muscle with repetitive motion using weights, resistance equipment (bands, kettle balls, etc.), or body weight;
- Flexibility: Challenges joints to move freely through a full range of motion; can be accomplished through stretching exercises, yoga, and Pilates
- Balance: Maintains stability, either when stationary or when moving around; accomplished through yoga, Tai Chi, or posture exercises
Your personal training program can be modified to accommodate your frail or chair-bound clients.
How to Become a Personal Trainer Focused on Working with Seniors
Becoming a personal trainer is as much about your education as it is about your love of physical fitness; therefore, the first step to becoming a personal trainer should involve the completion a degree program, professional certification, or both:
Degree Programs in Personal Training
Most degree programs in personal training are achieved at the associate or bachelor degree level. In addition to programs in personal training, you may also choose to pursue a degree program in a related area of study, such as:
- Exercise science
- Sports medicine
- Exercise physiology
These programs are designed to provide you with a solid understanding of the human body through a foundation in the biological sciences. Therefore, you can expect to complete courses in biology, anatomy, physiology, and chemistry, among others.
Further, many programs offer additional study in areas such as business management, marketing, and communications to prepare students to become managers, directors, and business owners in the fitness industry.
The core coursework of a degree program in personal training or a related subject often includes:
- Exercise science
- Exercise prescription
- Exercise prescription for special populations
Professional Certification in Personal Training
Professional certification from an accredited professional organization is often required by employers, as it ensures you have achieved a certain level of knowledge and expertise in personal training.
Professional certification, which generally includes a course of study, followed by an examination, is the industry standard for demonstrating competency in a given specialty area. You may also choose to pursue professional certification that speaks to your expertise in senior training:
- American Council on Exercise, Senior Fitness Specialist
- National Academy of Sports Medicine, Senior Fitness Specialist
- National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association, Senior Fitness Specialist
- International Fitness Professionals Association, Senior Fitness Specialist
- International Sports Sciences Association, Senior Fitness Certification
- American Academy of Health and Fitness, SrFit™