STRASBURG – Getting in shape and staying in shape is hard no matter how old you are.
Jill Eisentrout, a trainer at Anytime Fitness and specialist in senior fitness, said getting into the gym gets harder the older someone gets. Standing on the outside looking in at the gym can be intimidating, Eisentrout said. But the gym offers a pathway to a better life, she said.
“There was a misconception that the gym is for young people,” Eisentrout said. “And it’s more like the fountain of youth for older people.”
Eisentrout has been a trainer for 30 years, working with everyone from children to seniors on creating healthy bodies and healthy lifestyles. As she began to age, Eisentrout said she started to notice how her own training was becoming more limited. Between her own barriers and moving to the area, Eisentrout narrowed her focus to making sure older citizens had resources for staying physically fit.
Her first move to market the gym as a viable option for seniors was a balance and stability class. Basic, everyday items that teenagers and young adults take for granted are skills seniors have to work on, Eisentrout said.
“Just standing on one foot, or standing on one foot and reaching for something, a lot of younger people don’t see the challenge in that,” Eisentrout said.
Over time, the class grew and is now filled for two hours a day, three days a week.
While set classes are an option and a good way to get started, Eisentrout said that every person who comes in gets a personalized introduction and plan for what they need to succeed. Having someone to walk through the beginning stages helps to alleviate some of the fears, Eisentrout said, and sets each individual person up for success.
Depending on the person, and on the age, success is going to vary though most seniors find that success is closely tied to medical reports, Eisentrout said. When they were 20, having a six-pack and defined biceps was important but now she said having a strong core and biceps that work take precedence.
“I find that goals are more tied to medical reports … more tied to the ability to keep up with daily activities,” Eisentrout said, “and less tied to how they look in a bikini.”
Different goals have similar paths though, she said. Seniors, or anyone with an injury that has hampered their exercise, don’t usually do different exercises, they just have to do them differently, she said.
The common denominator for anyone who comes in to get in shape is having strong cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of “vigorous” exercise a week, Eisentrout said. For younger adults, she has them run, do jumping jacks and mountain climbers. Those exercises, however, are high impact and seniors with diminishing bone density are looking to stay healthy without hurting themselves. Instead, low-impact cardio exercises like walking fast as opposed to running are in the training book for seniors.
Like so many pieces of a fitness plan, Eisentrout said that how someone defines “vigorous” will range depending on their age, the current level of fitness and any injuries they may have. On a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being a couch potato and 10 being an athlete — Eisentrout said everyone, children to seniors, should aim to keep their exercise level in the 6-8 range.
“Get your heart rate up and keep it up for 20 to 30 minutes,” Eisentrout said. “That’s vigorous. Vigorous is not strolling the mall pace on your walk, but a ‘you’re late for your plane’ pace.”
Getting started is often the biggest hurdle, Eisentrout said. Getting off the couch where it is safe and comfortable and walking into a gym where everyone is compared against each other is ominous, she said, but that’s what coaches and classes are for.
“Habit is everything,” she said. “You have to stick with it long enough to see a change.”
“If you give up on the first one, you never get to the fun part,” she said. “That’s a big deal for people, is just making the time commitment. And maybe for seniors, scheduling it so they know it's consistent and persistent.”