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The Exercise "Special"ist (Part 4)

"Been there, done that," "You haven't lived until you've walked a mile in my shoes," and "With age comes wisdom." Many of you, my followers and loyal readers, have probably heard at least one, if not all, of these expressions. For the "special"ists we will get to know this week, not only do they recognize them, they can relate to them as well. According to the Census Bureau, they make up approximately sixteen percent (16%) of the American population. As Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y, and Millenials get older, it is estimated that this demographic will comprise 22% of the United States by 2050. Numbers like that prove these people are a force with which to be reckoned and, like the pregnant women we met a couple blogs ago, will pop up almost anywhere we go. Who are these "special" people, you ask? Read on to find out...

Senior citizens have actually "been there and done that." They lived in a generation before cell phones, computers, and social media became popular. Some served our country, fought wars, survived the Great Depression or Holocaust, were slaves and experienced life in ways never seen before. Others were denied a formal education because opportunities to attend school or go to college were limited. Women stayed home to raise families or occasionally assisted with work in fields to provide for themselves and others. This is the behind-the-scenes aspect many of the younger generation alive today will never fully comprehend.

Our 65+ citizens really did walk miles to market (yes, uphill both ways) in rain, snow, and wind to buy what they could afford only to have to return home and repeat again the next day masterfully exemplifying what it means to be "hunters and gatherers." Their minimalistic style of living truly made them "special." Families and extended families lived together under one roof and worked feverishly from sunup to sundown just to make ends meet. The majority of us living today will never triumph over adversity the way they did. But here they are reminding us that, as Kelly Clarkson says, "What doesn't kill us, most assuredly makes us stronger."

If you have ever taken the time to sit and chat with them, you will soon realize that they don't need a classroom or history book to educate younger generations. They ARE your teacher, they ARE and breathing real-life characters from all over the world found in stories we read or movies we watch. Give them a moment of your time and they will share decades of theirs with you which is more than any lecture or textbook ever will. Firsthand stories from their childhood, teenage years, or even adulthood are both educational and fascinating and, depending on who is telling them, can be rather humorous as well. Their wisdom has no boundaries...after all, age is just a number...

So how do these extra special individuals possess all these qualities (and more)? Well, that's an easy one. Putting everything together we see that the older population is not only wise but strong too. In their younger days, they worked extremely hard for everything they had and didn't sit in front of a television watching their favorite crime drama or soap opera. Nowadays, with the medical advances being made, improvements in technology, and the knowledge of the importance of keeping active, humans are living longer than ever imagined. Treatments for diseases and illnesses once thought of as death sentences are now being administered to cure or prolong their time with family and friends. Technology can now diagnose ailments much sooner giving those involved a better chance at survival and loved ones a sense of hope. And then there's exercise and movement...sometimes hindered because of achy joints, bulging bellies, hunched backs, retired hormones, unbalanced gait, and/or weak muscles. For these conditions there is indeed a solution.

Classes offered in a group setting are great ways to build endurance, develop consistency, gain strength, maintain aerobic fitness levels, make friends, and retain cognitive function all of which are vital to longevity. Aqua or pool instruction is a great way for seniors to stay fit because the water makes them buoyant and turns a normally challenging high impact activity into one way more doable. A item of consideration in this type of format, though, is that of water temperature. As we age our skin thins and does less to protect us from extreme weather conditions. Most facilities keep the temperature in wet areas between 78° - 82°. For a class composed primarily of older persons, 80° - 84° is recommended. Please also be aware that climate controlled indoor facilities suit this population sector best as their own built-in heating and cooling systems no longer work as efficiently as they once did.

Are you fortunate enough to keep up with your grandchildren or maybe blessed with good knees, a healthy heart, and amazing lung capacity? For you extraordarily rare and immensely "special" superheroes, Silver and Fit is best described as a bootcamp for active seniors. It is a bit more intense than, say, your pool classes and combine several workout formats into one class. Each instructor has their own unique teaching style so class content can change frequently based on ability and needs of participants.

Silver Sneakers is a weightlifting class for the 55+ community comprised of light dumbbells and lower intensity cardio activities. The majority of lifts are done in a seated position allowing members with multiple conditions or are wheelchair bound the chance to exercise like peers half their age. Cardiovascular movements are done holding onto the chair's back to encourage a more upright posture and reduce the risk of falling.

A major component of fitness for any age is flexibility. It is the foundation on which all movement patterns are based. Pliable muscles are moveable muscles and without them, injuries and stiffness creep into our daily lives. No matter what age bracket you happen to be, Yoga contributes to feeling and looking better well past retirement age. It, like many other formats is catered to all ability levels and can be modified or progressed easily.

Do artists like Elvis Presley have you putting on a pair of "Blue Suede Shoes" [written by Carl Perkins, 1955] and "Dancing The Night Away?" [The Motors, Dec. 1977.] If yes, Zumba Gold is your perfect fit. While it won't give you "Moves Like Jagger" [Maroon 5, 2011] or teach you to Moonwalk like Michael Jackson did in 1983, it is a fun choreographed dance fitness class designed to get your heart pumping but for those whose bodies no longer move to "The Rhythm of the Night." [DeBarge, 1985].

A quick piece of trivia for you avid gym junkies who didn't notice the relationship: classes on the schedule that are listed as Silver or Gold in their titles are designed exclusively for the "special" clientele addressed in this blog post, so if you're looking for a faster paced, higher caloric burn style, these may not work for you. However, that doesn't mean a 30 something is probibited from attending. Just understand they operate differently compared to a more traditional class. An easy way to differentiate between the two...silver represents their hair color and gold is because they are living in their golden years.

Now that we have grown to love both the obvious and subtle differences in humankind and recognized that each of these groups is "special" in their own way, we also learned that it really doesn't matter how we accomplish our goals but that we CAN do our part to get and stay healthy from birth throughout our lives if we just give a little effort. Remember this: We don't stop exercising because we get old, we get old because we stop exercising. So whether you're full speed ahead or enjoying the scent of roses along the path, it IS possible to get up, get out, and get moving.

Since we haven't had a question in a while:

What "special"ist inspires you the most and why?

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