Exercise is for everyone regardless of their age. The population of active agers have fitness goals as diverse as the population is in their interests and definitions of a good quality of life. For them and fitness professionals that work with them there are important aspects of the environment and equipment available that can make the gym more inclusive for everyone to exercise. There are aspects of the environment of a gym that can make the gym experience negative and challenging for the client as well as for the fitness professional. Obviously there are more than these, but here are three ways to make the gym more inclusive for active agers.
Often many of us come to the gym for the ambience and energizing atmosphere which includes music. Music helps to motivate, inspire and drive the energy level higher. It can be tempting and enjoyable to turn the music up high so everyone can enjoy the tunes. When the volume is so high that we have to raise our voices substantially higher than a usual conversational level it can be an issue for people with hearing issues.
With technology these days we may not even know if someone has a hearing aid on because they can be so small. Even with improved technology trying to listen to instruction can be very difficult when loud music is playing. Especially if the music source is coming from one direction versus a surround sound system that music is much more concentrated. Thus being in the direct path of that speaker can be distracting to say the least. Those wearing hearing aid devices can experience hearing that is more acute, sensitive or skewed. Trying to focus on one voice at the same time can be distressing, stressful and exhausting. Even if one is exercising on their own it can still be a sensory overload that can affect their concentration. Even if someone has features on their hearing aid such as directional options, chances are that would not help completely in the gym environment especially when listening for cues from a trainer.
Of course those experiencing hearing loss without hearing aids can experience the same kind of concentration issues or sensory overload. Arguably the main difference is that they can’t try to adjust their hearing, turn it down or try to adjust it in some way. They may experience the same kind of discombobulation and difficulty in concentration especially when performing exercises that take focus like balance training or complex movements.
Understandably with all of the great equipment gyms have much of it is pushed to the outside against the wall to keep floor space free until use or it for safety reasons it is better for the equipment to be used against a wall. At the same time having unobstructed wall space is helpful for any gym goer to do exercises like wall balls or wall sits or stretching against the wall.
In relation to an inclusive environment – gym goers and their trainers should have the potential to do many variations of exercises in the space. For example, someone can perform a squat a squat rack or a squat in an open space holding an external weight. When it comes to active agers, having unobstructed wall space can not only allow them to perform variations but also can help them do some exercise safer – namely balance training.
When an individual has balance issues that are so pronounced, asking them to do them in an open space can be too much. There can be a fear of falling so great that practicing balance training can cause anxiety. Always a part of any fitness professional’s thought process for programming is client safety. Such concerns are no different with those that work with active agers. When there is too much anxiety of falling or their balance is so eroded, it can be dangerous to attempt it in an open space. A great option is to have them stand close to the wall with their back to it or even in a corner for a bit more coverage. Then when instructing them to perform a single leg balance or similar movements they can have less anxiety of falling backwards because the wall is there to stop the fall from happening. Of course the coach is nearby and close, but can observe, instruct, encourage and instill a sense of independence in the client along with safety.
Another way the wall can be helpful is to use it for pushups. Just because someone is 70, 80 or more years old does not mean they should shy away from an exercises that can mirror everyday life movements or help them do them. A good example is the pushup. It is more than a shoulder but a core and full body exercise when done correctly. Just because someone cannot do them on the floor or even on a raised bar does not mean they should not do them. A great variation to floor pushups is a wall pushup. Below is Dr. Evan Oscar of IIHFE showing how it can be done.
Be assured, wall pushups are the tip of the iceberg what what can be done on the wall. The wall is a great tool for exercises such as modified planks or squats.
Cardio equipment is a staple in most if not all gyms. There are the treadmills, bikes and other assortment such as a rower. Focusing specifically on the bikes, it is important to have equipment that gives all gym goers choices to increase their cardiovascular health and help get their heart rate up. At the same time getting on them should not be part of a workout, strenuous or dangerous. Below are to kinds of stationary bicycles you may see at a gym.
The assault bike is as challenging of a workout as it sounds. All limbs are moving. The arms are pulling and pushing while the legs are moving. Because of all of the moving parts, one can’t put full weight on the handles because they move. To get on this bike on top of balancing on one leg for a moment while throwing a leg over, one can’t use the handles as a fixed thing to support their hands momentarily. If someone with balance issues attempts to get on this kind of bike it can be done but it can be a balancing act to get on and helpful if a wall or something to hold onto is nearby. Mounting equipment should not be a balancing act or challenging. The challenge should be using the equipment. Looking to the right in the graphic, the standard stationary bike or similar one you see only has the foot pedals that move of course. Yet it can still be a challenge for someone to get themselves on the seat with balance issues or hip impingements.
A great stationary bike to have access to for those with balance, hip injury or other issues is the recumbent bike. A great cardio workout can still be achieved with a range of difficulty, without any concern of a risky dismount or getting onto the equipment.
***One more thing ⇒ Marketing. Of course marketing is not about the environment of a gym, but is still important. If a gym welcomes all to exercise there but only shows one demographic in their pictures and videos what are they really saying? Active agers can and do “get after it” in the gym and perform strength training exercises, agility and other movements. (I am not talking about using boring stock photos.) Including every population, age, body type and gender performing variations of exercises in marketing is also a way to truly welcome such people to the gym because they see themselves in the ads. Of course the marketing gets them in the gym…the environment and equipment itself is another thing.
It should go without saying, but let’s acknowledge it anyway – this post is not calling for music to be turned down to a whisper, for there to be wall space at every turn and there should be an entire area dedicated to recumbent bikes. Also not every person in this demographic physically needs to use a recumbent bike because their balance is good enough and they are able to swing their leg over or get on in another way. They may prefer if not enjoy what an assault bike or other kinds of cardio equipment has to offer and have no anxiety or issues hopping on such equipment. Furthermore there are many that are able to do balance training, planks, pushups and other exercises without the need of a wall.
At the same time, opening the doors to a gym and stating that it is for everyone without an environment that truly welcomes all sends a mixed message. The older population of all fitness levels should feel welcomed to exercise and comfortable to get their sweat on in their own way and get stronger and more agile. Active agers enjoy working out in an environment with their younger counterparts and cheering them on. These attendees enjoy the atmosphere of a gym and feeling like they are part of the fitness community and don’t want to be put in the corner. In addition those fitness professionals that enjoy helping a growing population move better in life appreciate a gym that makes the effort to maintain an inclusive environment for their clients as this makes their jobs much easier (not to mention maintain and grow their client base.) If you are a fitness professional advocate for your client when you feel that the space is not inclusive of your active aging client. Chances are others don’t see the gym space as you do, through your clients eyes. If you are an active aging gym member, enjoy the space but find some aspect unwelcoming or unnecessarily difficult make your voice heard and explain your concerns. Again, chances are others have never considered how you experience the space and will be receptive to your voice.