Hey seniors, let’s get physical!

Feb 22, 2021
Aqua aerobics - it's not just for the ladies! Source: Glenn Hunt

Starts at 60 recently caught up with exercise psychologist Joel Warman, who specialises in fitness for seniors in his role at Shine Birtinya Retirement Living’s Wellness Centre. He talked us through some of the more popular and beneficial exercises for men and women over 55.

What sort of fitness classes do you run? 
Balance training, aqua aerobics, dance aerobics, group walks and stretching classes. I also like to include programs such as mindfulness, to increase awareness about the importance of psychological health in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What are some of the differences between men and women in terms of fitness preferences?
Over the years, I’ve observed that men like to exercise independently. This gives men the flexibility to control their own exercise and work out on their own terms. Women tend to be more attracted to group exercises. Men are always encouraged and invited to join the group classes – and many do.

I’ve noticed some reluctance from men to attend aqua aerobics, with many of the opinion that the class was more suited for women. Aqua exercise has many real benefits for the human body, regardless of gender. The buoyancy of the water offsets the body’s weight and therefore reduces the load on the joints, while the hydrostatic pressure of the water also helps to support pain-free joint movement while moving against the constant resistance of water. It allows people to move and perform a greater range and intensity of movements than they might be able to perform on land.

I created a male-only aqua class in an attempt to encourage more men along to the class – and that’s exactly what happened. We’ve had a strong attendance, but while the classes are similar, the atmosphere between the male and female classes is different – mainly because the men are a lot less chatty!

Joel created a specific aqua fitness class for men, to boost attendance. Source: Glenn Hunt

Can you tell us about one of the seniors who really benefited from an exercise class?
One resident was experiencing joint pain in his legs, which was limiting his daily activity and preventing participation in his normal gym routine. He’d previously overlooked aqua aerobics, due to perceiving it as an ‘easy’ exercise, but soon came to realise the benefits the class has to offer. He gradually gained increased movement and function to the point he was able to return to his previous exercise! He’s still a regular in the pool now for our aqua sessions.

What are the overall physical benefits for exercising as a senior?
With ageing, we see a decline in many physical attributes that we take for granted at a younger age. One of the major benefits of physical exercise as we age is that it can slow the decline in strength, cardiovascular fitness and mobility. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ becomes very relevant as we age, and even more so when we retire, as the amount of incidental activity we do also reduces. Physical exercise can protect against the loss of muscle strength, cardiorespiratory capacity and mobility as we age, leading to a longer lifespan and improved quality of life.

And the non-physical benefits?
It’s important not to overlook the psycho-social benefits of regular activity. These can include improved self-confidence, self-efficacy and stress management, as well as increasing blood flow and oxygenation of the brain, which in turn keeps the brain healthier longer.

What advice would you give to seniors about exercising at home? 
Ideally, seniors need to do a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiorespiratory exercise per day, such as walking, bike riding and swimming. It’s also important to complete some sort of moderate-intensity resistance training exercise two to three times a week in order to maintain muscular strength.

When considering an exercise program, it is always recommended to speak to your doctor or an exercise professional to ensure the exercise is safe for your current health status. I will always tell residents that something is better than nothing. Even though what you do might be less than the recommended amount, starting small can help build a habit of exercise.

What do you find most rewarding about the work you do? 
I like working with people and being able to help them achieve something positive in their life, whether it’s physical benefits or increased positive social interaction. Everyone needs exercise – regardless of their age – and I enjoy being able to help provide this based on their individual circumstances. I enjoy working with the senior residents because they are a great bunch, and we have many wonderful chats and a good laugh during our various programs!

Joel showing how it’s done during one of his aqua classes. Source: Glenn Hunt

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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