Food & Fitness After 50: A Deep Dive into Water Aerobics

If you are looking for a non-impact activity that provides all the components of fitness…cardiovascular, muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility, then water aerobics might be for you. And, bonus points for the cooling water in the pool as a great antidote to summer heat and humidity.

Water Aerobics is not Playing, but it is Fun

Sue Ellen
Suellen leading water aerobics

If you think that those folks in the pool are just playing, think again. “Water aerobics is a full body workout,” says Suellen, who at age 73 teaches classes throughout the summer, sometimes as many as five classes a week. Suellen has been an avid exerciser since the early 1980s when she and her friends donned leotards and did Jazzercise until she found water aerobics. “I’ve had lower back problems since I was a teen and the jarring impact of land-based exercise could make my back issues worse and put me out of commission for over a week,” says Suellen. So, she switched to water-based exercise and liked it so much she became a certified water aerobics instructor. “I never planned to be an instructor, but another instructor encouraged me and a friend to take the YMCA-based training and the rest is history.” The certification “wasn’t easy, but I learned CPR, water fitness, and both classroom and in-the-pool exams made me a competent instructor with more confidence,” says Suellen.

The benefits of water aerobics are many:

  • It promotes gains in muscle strength.“The resistance of the water makes an ideal environment to build muscle and there are many ways to change moves to make them more challenging as strength builds,” notes Suellen.
  • It is beneficial in treating osteoarthritis of knee and hip joints. Many people associate water aerobics with exercise for people with arthritis and for good reason. Your body weight is reduced by about 90% from the buoyancy of the water thereby reducing stress on weight-bearing joints. 
  • It is a welcoming environment for those who have been sedentary, who are overweight, or who have chronic disease. “We have all levels of fitness in a typical water aerobics class from those who are very fit to those who have chronic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, who find exercise difficult. Suellen always tells her students, to keep three things in mind during any class when they find movement difficult…slow it down, make smaller moves, and substitute an easier move.”
  • Many people choose water aerobics when rehabbing from an injury or surgery. Cathy, a regular in Suellen’s class, told me she was “looking for an exercise class that she could do after she finished physical therapy for knee replacement surgery. I found water aerobics to be of great benefit in strengthening my knee and I think it helped me get back to land-based aerobics more quickly, but I still do water aerobics because I love it!”

ThinkstockPhotos-480904565Suellen says that water aerobics follows the same format as other hour-long aerobics classes, “we start with a warm up of stretching exercises, and then spend most of the time on cardio, followed by a cool down. We use Styrofoam buoys for resistance exercise, and just like weights you use in the gym, these come in different “weights,” so we can increase resistance.”

Can Water Based Exercise Improve Bone Health

Water aerobics can help with bone health but is not as good as land-based exercise to strengthen bone, something Suellen found out when her doctor told her bone density was low. Suellen is working with a personal trainer who is knowledgeable about working with older adults with health issues. (I know this first hand, as I also worked with David when I had hip problems, for more on the benefits of working with a personal trainer, click here.)

Always a Teacher

Water aerobics
Class at YMCA, photo credit Bill Powell

Suellen taught 7th grade math for 29 years before she retired, but she sneaks some math lessons into her water aerobics classes now and then. “I’ll ask them to identify north, east, west, and south while we are in the pool and them ask them how that relates to the numbers on a compass, I guess once a math teacher, always a math teacher!” She loves the reactions she gets from the people who come to her class, “we have several people in their eighties who are regulars and they enjoy the exercise, but they really like the social aspects and the fun of the class.”

Tips for Optimal Aging

When I asked Suellen to identify the top three ways to optimal aging, not surprisingly, her first response was “move, move, move!” “My dad played golf at the age of 94 and moving is what keeps us all going.”

The second tip is to stay socially connected. It could be through an exercise class, volunteer activities, church groups, or as Suellen puts it, “anything that gets people going, gets them up, gets them dressed, and gets them out of the house so they develop a social connection to the place and to the people.” She works at getting to know the people in her class and “making them feel more comfortable about participating and looking forward to coming back is what matters.”

And, lastly, she said, “laughter, having fun and laughing during exercise is so rewarding, we laugh with each other and they laugh at me when I mess up, and that’s OK because it keeps us all laughing, having fun, and moving!”

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well check out Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Consider a Personal Trainer to Reach Your Fitness Goals

“The healthier I eat, the more energy I have for exercise. The more I exercise, the more I want to eat healthier food. For me, one leads to the other.”                                                                                                                                                                          David Leard

As I approached my mid-sixties I wanted to be more fit and kick up my fitness routine. At my local YMCA, the weight room intimated me. Not because I was unfamiliar with weight training, but the equipment was old and a mixture of various manufacturer’s equipment and the adjustments from one machine to the next were confusing*.  And, I’ve never had great core strength, so I decided to hire a personal trainer for a series of 6 lessons to help me meet my fitness goals. It was important to find a trainer who understood how to work with older adults, so I met David and knew I found the best trainer for me. After our training sessions, I asked David to share his journey to healthy aging and gained a lot from our interview. I think you will, too.

What was your career path before you became a personal trainer?

David at YMCAI began my career as an elementary school physical education teacher in my hometown. To earn some extra money, I delivered newspapers and that led to a career shift to newspaper production management with the Anderson(South Carolina) Independent-Mail and Athens (Georgia) Banner Herald. While in my forty’s I earned a second degree from the University of Georgia in Environmental Health Science and began serving as the Environmental Health Manager in the county where I stated as an elementary school teacher.

How did you get into personal training?

I’ve always been interested in fitness and began lifting weights at the age of 13 after watching my older brothers play high school football. I realized that if I wanted to get on the football field, I was going to have to get bigger and stronger. I enjoyed strength exercise so much as a youth, that I’ve continued it throughout adulthood. My wife, Jean, and I found space for a makeshift home gym wherever we’ve lived and used it to strength train. A few years ago, we started exercising at the Bell Family YMCA and really enjoyed the classes and the comradery with the members. While contemplating retirement from full time work, I knew I wanted part-time work to stay physically and mentally active.  Personal training was a natural progression and I like being able to make a difference in people’s lives. I got certified through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) )after about six months of preparation. I went on to earn an additional certification as an orthopedic specialist personal trainer to help meet my client’s needs.

David and Jean kettelbell
David & Jean after Kettlebell class

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve gotten older? 

Strength training with free weights was always my go-to form of exercising. I enjoyed it and thought it was a fun activity as another person might enjoy a sport like golf or pickle ball. But as I’ve gotten older I don’t care about how much I bench press and I put much more emphasis on my core as way of avoiding injury. When I feel myself pushing too hard, I try to think of “living to exercise another day.” What I do care about is strength training for functional fitness, such as playing with my grandchildren or being able to work in the yard.

What motivates you to stay active?

David TRX
David and daughter doing TRX

My family is my motivation to stay active. I enjoy playing and exercising with my 5 grandchildren ages 6 to 13 years. They are starting to get into exercise and I encourage them to find joy in movement. My wife and I really have fun trying to keep up with our two children and their spouses who are avid exercisers. And, I must stay fit for the never-ending amount of yard work at my house and I’m too cheap to pay a landscaper! I want to continue to be a vibrant husband, father, and grandfather so that my family can count on me in the future.

Do you follow any special diet, or do you have any tips for healthy eating that work for you?

I’ve never counted calories and I enjoy junk food as much as anyone, particularly when my grandchildren visit. But, for the most part I eat healthy and enjoy fruits and salads topped with lean protein. I try to make sure I’m eating some complex carbs for sustained energy. My weakness is sweets and I do allow myself some indulgences. If you look in my freezer you will probably find some chocolate I’ve hidden from myself. I’m very fortunate that my wife enjoys eating healthy foods, so we support and motivate each other to stay focused without any browbeating. I also find a direct correlation to eating well and exercise. The healthier I eat, the more energy I have for exercise. The more I exercise, the more I want to eat healthier food. For me, one leads to the other.

If you had to name 3 things you do to age well, what would they be? 

  • I manage my weight by eating healthy and exercising.
  • I complete all wellness exams with my physician, including recommended vaccinations.
  • I read and do research on the many facets of aging and I listen to health professionals.

What are the biggest challenges to aging well?

I find that many of the clients I work with at the YMCA are fighting through aches or pains, such as arthritis or bursitis, or old injuries that continue to linger. These folks may have gone through a hip or knee replacement or are putting off a needed surgery. Aches and pains can stall or halt any progress an individual has made in their exercise program. I can relate to that as I’ve recently begun to experience arthritis hip pain. Finding ways to work around the pain is a challenge. Most of my clients are my age or older and I am always researching ways to keep these clients moving through or around the difficulties with various exercise modifications. As a Certified Personal Trainer, I’m required to complete continuing education to maintain my certification and I seek out educational opportunities on these types of problems.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

That’s a challenging question for me in that I don’t consider myself smart enough to dispense words of wisdom! However, I do a lot of reading and research and I know there is a lot of free information on the internet about exercise, diet, and nutrition. Some of it is good and some not, so I encourage my clients to research the qualifications of the people who are giving free advice. Make sure your information and advice is coming from a qualified health professional.

What do you see in people you train in terms of what they do well and what you wish they would do more?

While all my clients have worked hard at their employment over the years, many haven’t exercised since they were young and are now recognizing the need because they are experiencing problems with basic movements, such as getting up and down from the floor or from the couch. I’m continually impressed with their dedication and willingness to work through the aches and pains and honored to be working with them. Many of my clients told me they regret not having started a regular exercise program earlier. I recommend that just like saving money for retirement, start an exercise program now and stay consistent.

Many of my clients are concerned about their weight. I encourage them to feed their exercise program with proper nutrition.  ChooseMyPlate.gov s a wonderful website full of good information on proper nutrition.

*Recently, the YMCA obtained new “used” equipment and the machines are much nicer and easier to use ! David helped me learn how to use all of the new machines.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: It’s True! Good Things Come in Small Packages

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” George Burns, Comedian

For 38 years, Bo worked in IT for IBM and then “retired” and worked for 3 years in the “best job I ever had.” That job was for the local Chamber of Commerce where “everyday was different, unpredictable, and fun.” But, being the people-person, she is, Bo says the best part was the people she worked with and the interactions with others in her community. Having just celebrated her 69th birthday, Bo is now fully retired, but she spends a good part of every day at the YMCA taking aerobic classes three days a week from Jean the Dancing Queen.”  She also plays pickelball for several hours 4 to 5 days a week.

Healthy Habits to Control Weight

Bo 2Bo has always been petite and the only time she gained weight was during her pregnancies with her 2 boys, but she quickly got back to her usual, healthy weight. While many adults gain weight as they age, Bo manages her weight by eating smaller portions, eating lots of fresh veggies, limiting sweets and sugar, and paying attention to how much and when she eats. “I’m lucky that I like the healthy stuff!” She often finds she doesn’t have much of an appetite, but eating breakfast and a mid-day meal around 2 pm (which she calls a cross between lunch and dinner as “linner”) keeps her fueled without being full. Her only dietary indulgence is a “real Coca-Cola” a couple of times a week. She also pays attention to hydration and is sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to replenish water loss during activity.

Keep moving

As she has gotten older, Bo knows she needs to pay attention to her body and adjust as needed. “Know what you can do and what you can’t do.” TRX is all the rage at our local Y, but she knows that it isn’t for her. “Understand your body, but stay involved and active.” Her words of wisdom are “the more you use it, the better it gets.” Great advice for everyone!

Keep motivated

Many sedentary folks look at active people and think it is easy for them or that it comes naturally, but Bo makes exercise a priority in her life. Bo’s advice is “don’t be lazy; tell yourself you have to go to exercise class, an activity, or for that daily walk. “Feed your body right and use it every day!” Her words reminded me that while I often would prefer to skip morning exercise class and sleep in a bit longer or linger over a second cup of coffee, I have never once said, “I wish I hadn’t exercised today!” We all feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally after a good workout!