Updated: Apr 4
In our previous blog, Creating Exceptional Fitness Experiences: The Basics, we began by checking in on and challenging our beliefs and biases of aging and exercise. We debunked some common myths and misconceptions such as: “I’m too old”, “I have a chronic condition”, and “Exercise could be dangerous”. Then we reviewed the most important components for ensuring your senior fitness program is creating opportunities for your participants to reach the physical activity guidelines for older adults by performing a program FITT Audit.
Now that we have the basics down, we discuss taking your program to the next level and creating a multi-dimensional fitness experience.
Being physically active is an opportunity to reap more than just the physical benefits. Many organizations are looking for ways to keep the seniors they serve physically strong, intellectually sharp, and socially connected. Often, organizations have an initiative for each of these goals when the most effective way to check off all the boxes is with one amazing fitness program.
To create a multi-dimensional fitness experience, first we need to have an understanding of the Six Dimensions of Wellness. The Six Dimensions of Wellness Model was developed by Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute. Let’s explore the Six Dimensions of Wellness and how to use them to create a multi-dimensional fitness experience for the seniors you serve.
“The physical dimension recognizes the need for regular physical activity. As you travel the wellness path, you’ll strive to spend time building physical strength, flexibility and endurance
while also taking safety precautions so you may travel your path successfully, including medical self-care and appropriate use of a medical system.”
Helping the seniors you serve to be physically well should include helping them to meet the physical activity guidelines for older adults. Review Creating Exceptional Fitness Experiences: The Basics to ensure your program checks the box on physical wellness.
“A well person expands his or her knowledge and skills while discovering the potential for sharing his or her gifts with others…a well person cherishes intellectual growth and stimulation”.
Brain health is becoming a top priority for older adults. A poll conducted in the UK found that people are now more afraid of getting dementia and Alzheimer’s than they are of getting cancer. For many, the idea of “losing their mind” or not being able to remember themselves or their loved ones is terrifying. Luckily, the research is beginning to pile up on the intellectual/brain benefits of physical activity. To preserve your brain health, put down the sudoku and get moving! The World Health Organization’s guidelines for the risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia cites physical activity as one of the best ways (better than cognitive interventions like brain games/puzzles) for reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The reason for this is simple - the brain and the body are not separate. When you get physically active, blood flow increases, and with it, nutrients, and oxygen. Remember the brain scan below:
After just 20 minutes of physical activity we see heightened attention and faster information processing.
Research by Erikson Et. Al completed a randomized controlled trial with 120 older adults who were assigned to an aerobic exercise group or a stretching group. They found that the older adults who took part in the aerobic exercise training saw an increase in the size of the anterior hippocampus (responsible for information processing and memory) and improvements in spatial memory. Aerobic training increased hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age-related loss in volume by 1 to 2 years! The group who took part in the stretching intervention displayed a 1.40% decline over this same interval. This study demonstrates two important points:
Exercising is good for the brain!
Not all exercises are created equal, so be sure to refer back to Creating Exceptional Fitness Experiences: The Basics to ensure you are helping the older adults you serve to take part in the right kinds of activities.
Now, how can you incorporate an intentional intellectual component into your fitness program?
As an instructor, saying the name of an exercise and counting to 10 is not only boring, it’s a missed opportunity. Here are a few ways to incorporate some brain changes while also making your program more fun and interesting:
Counting in another language: If you insist on sticking with the counting, then try counting in another language. There are so many language apps available to help you learn to count to 10 in variety of languages, or better yet, see what languages the participants in your class speak and have them lead the class through counting to 10. This tactic is good for the brain and has occupational benefits (more on this later) for the participants leading the group.
The Alphabet Game: Pick a theme such as countries, girl/boy names, fruit/vegetables, cars, etc. and go around the circle or room having participants name something according to the corresponding letter of the alphabet. For example, Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, etc. Games like this really help to pass the time and take the participant’s mind off the work.
Tongue twisters: Tongue Twisters or poems are another great way to challenge the brain. Try alternating between 4 heel digs and 4 marches while saying the following: “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy was he?”
Counting in patterns: Try alternating between 4 heel digs and 4 marches, but this time count backwards from 100 by 3’s, or 7’s.
Movement Combinations: This is our favourite way to incorporate a brain challenge at StrongerU Senior Fitness. Every one of our 30-minute StrongerU Senior Fitness classes involves interesting movement combinations that require participants to move through the stages of motor learning. First, participants experience the cognitive stage of motor learning where they are really having to think about movement combination – for example, side raise, front raise, bicep