It is no secret that exercise is an integral part of a healthy life. But what happens when we get older and our bodies age, and being sedentary looks a lot more appealing? Why do we need to keep active, no matter where we're at in life?
We recently talked to Ellyn Gildea, Merritt Towson's Fitness Director, about the importance and benefits of regular exercise for older adults. Ellyn also discussed why the social aspect of the club gives active agers the motivation to keep coming back to the gym.
What made you get into personal training and what do you do at Merritt Clubs Towson?
I’m the Fitness Director at Merritt Clubs Towson and I’m also a personal trainer. What got me into personal training? My undergrad degree is in Athletic Training. When I graduated, I worked at a high school in State College, Pennsylvania for two and a half years. I worked with athletes which really piqued my interest in personal training because I would train some of the athletes aside from working as their athletic trainer.
I wanted to expand my knowledge and experience to help a broader range of people. So, I went back to school to get my master's degree in nutrition and exercise. I started working with older clients whose goals were different than that of an athlete. “Older” meaning like older than high school students. I started to realize that I enjoyed working with this clientele because I could see more extreme improvements in a short period of time.
You obviously see improvements training athletes but they are usually relatively incremental changes that improve performance. The general population has a different set of goals and will show a more drastic improvement in simple activities that impact their lives outside of the gym.
Ellyn training a client at Merritt Clubs Towson
This club has a great number of active agers that regularly come and take a group fitness class, a personal training session, play racquetball, or just work out on their own. What’s the appeal?
I think the biggest aspect is the sense of community. It gives members something to look forward to on a regular basis. It’s an activity to be involved in and is another place to meet people. We have many retired members here during the day. Several will go to a group fitness class or meet with a trainer in the morning then go drink coffee and just chat with friends in the lobby. The racquetball players come in like clockwork, play for a few hours, then often go to lunch together.
I think it’s the social aspect that keeps members coming and the health benefits from their workouts are just positive side effects.
How important is regular exercise for older adults? What are the benefits?
With older adults you see a lot of different changes after a certain age. Some people have it happen sooner than others, but you start seeing changes in bone density, muscle mass, and metabolism. There’s a process called “sarcopenia” which is a loss of muscle mass and function that occurs at a more rapid rate as we age. The loss of function, balance, and mobility results in frailty which can eventually lead to loss of independence and often an increase in injury and fall incidence. It can be physically and emotionally debilitating to everyday life. Completing simple tasks becomes difficult or impossible.
With regular exercise, especially resistance training, you see less of these negative effects. Resistance exercise minimizes the rate of processes like sarcopenia by retaining muscle mass, bone density, and metabolism. Healthier muscle mass can result in improved balance and strength for activities of daily life. Regular exercise can also help prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Maintaining muscle, mobility and function makes for a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Any tips on how they can make the most out of their workout regimen?
I would say consistency is the biggest thing, making sure that your routine becomes a weekly habit. Just keep moving.
Getting in the pool, going to a group fitness class or working with a personal trainer a few days per week can make a drastic difference. Unfortunately sometimes it can be difficult in that age group because there are often setbacks that can’t be controlled, such as illnesses and life events that may take away time from the club.
However, there is a noticeable difference with this population. When they start to consistently come to the gym, the improvements transfer directly into their activities of daily life. There is better overall function and less chance of injury resulting in a more independent lifestyle.
I think that even just coming in and being social with others is important to most people. The club is a welcoming place where members can get away from the outside world and focus on their needs. I think that’s true for everybody.
Want to know more about Ellyn's specializations? Click here to check out her trainer bio.