For Seniors, It's Never Too Late To Hit the Gym

Exercising into our 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond provides a slew of health benefits.

One day at the gym, an 85-year-old client approached fitness consultant and coach Tim Beauchamp.

With tears in his eyes, the man told Beauchamp that when he woke up that morning, he pulled his pants on without having to sit down for the first time in years. And when he walked up and down the stairs on his houseboat, he didn’t need to hold onto the railing. That’s what physical training at the gym had done for him.

"Having him tell me that was one of the best moments of my life," Beauchamp recalled.

Beauchamp, who regularly trains seniors at Sound Mind and Body Gym, relishes the chance to give older adults a healthier, more active lifestyle. He believes individuals in their 70s, 80s and 90s can benefit from weight lifting and cardio training just as much as young people can. While the average 85-year-old may not be entering track races or slipping on a bikini at the beach, he still needs to walk, climb stairs and bend over. Physical training makes everyday life easier.

"Adding muscle lengthens their lifespan," Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp began working with seniors about six years ago. At that time, he became the instructor of a Sound Mind and Body class called Silver Power. The previous teacher had been taking the seniors through light aerobics sessions. Beauchamp determined they needed to lift weights in order to slow the rapid muscle loss that occurs with aging.

"I’m a big believer in weights until the day you die," Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp began to gain a core contingency of senior fans, some of whom enlisted him for personal training sessions. He discovered that not only did seniors want to work with him, but he also truly enjoyed interacting with them. Beauchamp taught them how to use exercise balls and pull-up machines, and his clients, in turn, shared with him stories and lessons they’d learned over the years.

Beauchamp and his clients also developed mutual respect. While some trainers shy away from older clients because they fear injuring them, Beauchamp didn’t hesitate to work his seniors.

"I don’t think older people are from a different planet, and I don’t treat them as so," Beauchamp said. "We all want to be treated like we are capable rather than invalids."

Beauchamp believes he can push his senior clients to grow stronger, so long as he does so in a safe and sensible manner. For those individuals who have never set foot in a gym, Beauchamp begins by introducing them to weight machines. The machines allow less room for errors in form and feel less intimidating to newbies, Beauchamp said.

In later sessions, Beauchamp shows seniors exercises that utilize dumbbells and their own body weight. These sessions enable clients to use their core muscles, building stability and balance.

"Balance is super important for seniors because it’s something we can lose as we grow older," Beauchamp said. "The more you work on your balance, the better it gets."

Once the seniors develop proper form and stability, Beauchamp encourages them to begin lifting heavier weights. Convincing his clients that they should–and can–hoist more pounds can be a challenge, as they can be intimidated by the idea. But Beauchamp persists, as real weight lifting is critical for improving muscle mass. That muscle will enable seniors to heal faster and have more energy for life, he said.

Beauchamp sees more and more older clients at the gym, and he believes the trend will only continue. Aging baby boomers, accustomed to active lifestyles, will want to feel fit well into their 70s and 80s.

So is it ever too late for someone to take up exercise? Beauchamp says no, but adds that the earlier in life someone begins working out, the easier it will be later. The natural loss of muscle and bone density begins kicking in once someone hits about 40, and the sooner we take measures to prevent it, the better.

"Don’t wait," Beauchamp advised. "It’s never too late, but the older you are, the harder it gets."

Beachamp welcomes emails from seniors interested in training with him or from those who want more information or resources on senior classes and trainers in their neighborhood. He can be reached at beaudesign@comcast.net.

Rob B May 27, 2011 at 03:09 PM
As a fellow instructor of senior fitness I can tell you that many older adults can do a lot more than we think they can and can gain benefits from a consistent exercise routine. I've seen a 92 year old man go from having to use a walker to using just a cane and then tossing that aside as well. Amazing isn't it?! Fitness is good for everyone at any age!
Ann Lornie May 27, 2011 at 07:50 PM
I belong to a large International Internet group of COPD Patients. I am a great believer in using weights in spite of having this disease and am constantly mentioning the subject. Muscles in good condition are much more economical in their use of oxygen and since I have 18% lung function left but am still able to do Goblet Squats amongst other tough stuff I feel fully justified in promoting weight lifting. :) Bless you for keeping people on their feet for as long as possible and ensuring they retain quality of life. You are a star! Ann Lornie


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