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Easing the Transition: Colin Milner on Helping Older People Find a New Activity  

Colin MilnerIt should come as no surprise that many new and relevant feature stories are planned for CBI magazine. One, in particular, considers a very hot topic—serving the changing fitness needs of seniors.

Scheduled for our June issue, the story explores how club operators and industry professionals can best assist active individuals who find they must “retire” one activity and find a new one to replace it.

The experts I interviewed all had valuable advice to share—too much of it, in fact, so, I’d like to share more of it here.

Following are some thoughts and tips from Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), an association dedicated to changing the way we age.

What changes are typically seen in the aging population?

Expectedly, how someone ages varies. The changes a client will experience will depend significantly on the lifestyle choices they’ve made. Those who choose to be inactive can anticipate losing approximately 50% of their strength, and 75% of their power between the ages of 35 and 70. Further, those same individuals are at risk of succumbing to diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health challenges.

For this group, it’s important to emphasize that the more you move, the better you’ll be able to manage your health and well-being. Exercise plays a big role in what changes they will or won’t experience. Remind them of this.

Do many older adults struggle with the notion of having to switch up their training because their bodies have changed?

I think we all find ourselves in denial at some point. However, we must come to terms with reality. And we need to recognize that we really can do many of the things we were able to do when we were younger, just at a different level.

Keep them focused on what they can do versus what they can’t.

Of course, in some instances, there’ll be challenges that can’t be fully overcome, and goals that aren’t safely attainable. In such cases it’s often necessary to abandon a once loved sport. Then, it’s essential to point out that there’ll always be some other activity they can engage in.

How do you tell when a client may need to try something different?

This is where assessment becomes so important. It’s crucial to establish a baseline at the onset of training. Then, periodically and over time, you’ll want to look at whether the client is moving up or down the ability scale. You can also compare them to their peers.

One testing protocol I would recommend is found in the Senior Fitness Test Manual, Second Edition, by Dr. Jessie Jones and Dr. Roberta Rikli. This text offers a test that permits you to gauge a client’s progress or decline—which can help you determine when a change is in order.

The bottom line: know your client and assess them frequently.

If you notice a client is struggling and needs to change things up, how do you address the situation without frustrating them?

Above all else, strive to keep all interactions and sessions positive, keeping the client focused on attainable goals.

Help them determine why they’re exercising in the first place. If it’s to run five miles, but their knees are shot, their desire might not match the reality. You’ll need to ask questions and find out what other activities appeal to them. As you do, be sure to emphasize how the new option can help them achieve a better level of fitness.

What messaging is best suited to this group?

It should highlight “now.” What can I achieve today? Will it give me more energy, make me more stable on my feet, or feel more independent?

Overall, what’s the key to finding success with this age group?

Notably, you should like working with older people. If you don’t, they’ll know it.

Also, be willing to admit when you need assistance. In certain instances it will be appropriate to refer your client to, or obtain input from another, allied health professional such as a physician or physical therapist.

Any final thoughts?

One word: focus. Anything less will lead to inferior results.

Patricia Glynn,

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