An Exercise In Creativity
Fitness programs that lead the pack
By Stacy St. Clair
In the mercurial recreation world, Wayne Westcott doesn't waste his time trying to predict the next fitness fad. He just knows what works.
"I'm not very good at predicting trends- I've always been wrong," said Westcott, the fitness research director at South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. "But I do know seniors are getting more interested in strength training."
Studies show that exercise, in general, helps seniors maintain their health and delay the onset of diseases and disabilities. Research has found that seniors who exercise reduce their chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and low bone density, among other ailments.
Additional research has proven that strength training, specifically, has a wonderful impact. It's effective for improving glucose metabolism, increasing bone mineral density and speeding up gastrointestinal transit. It also goes a long way toward alleviating back pain and reducing arthritis discomfort.
Westcott, who has authored several books, including "Strength Training Past 50," recently conducted a study that further reinforces the benefits of senior strength training.
His research focused on analyzing data from 1,132 men and women who completed the South Shore YMCA basic fitness program. The participants, who represented various age groups, performed 25 minutes of strength exercise and 25 minutes of endurance exercise two or three times per week for two months.
The results showed that seniors improved their weight and composition much like younger adults. They also developed lean muscle tissue at the same rate as other program participants. Replacing muscle is critical for older people because sedentary seniors risk losing more than 5 pounds of lean muscle mass every decade. Adding just 2.4 pounds of muscle, seniors bucked nearly five years of the aging process after just two months of strength training.
The strength-training seniors made bigger strides than their younger test subjects when it came to blood pressure. On average, seniors experienced a 3.7 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure and a 6.2 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure.
Improving systolic blood pressure was particularly important to the senior participants because many began the study above the hypertensive line, but ended within the normal range. Such progress speaks volumes about the effectiveness of circuit training programs, Westcott said.
"Circuit strength training has become very popular," he said. "There's been quite a lot of research done on that. I think that's going to be a major growing trend for seniors—a more specific, intensive training program. Brief, but specific."
In addition to recognizing the health benefits to their patrons, proactive recreation managers understand that senior fitness programs offer an excellent chance to plan for the future. U.S. Census Bureau statistics suggest that roughly 40 percent of the population will be older than 50 by the year 2030. The data also predict that the percentage of the population aged 65 and older will jump from the current 12 percent to 20 percent in the next 25 years.
Recreation managers would be well advised to address the needs of this growing and influential segment of the population. Having a circuit weight-training program in place now will greatly benefit aging baby boomers later.
"That's what I think we're coming to—a more specific strength-training program," Westcott said. "It's brief, but intense enough to build muscle, build bone density and reduce the risk of the incidence of diseases like sarcopenia and osteoporosis. Seniors recognize this."