Senior fitness trainers are helping baby boomers stay healthy and active

Dee Simpson on a cycling trip to Macedonia in Sept., 2018.Handout

Dee Simpson retired from her film and television production company at age 65 and took up her fourth career as a personal trainer.

Fourteen years later, at age 79, the Torontonian is currently working with 11 clients ranging in age from 56 to 84. Her oldest client to date was 101 and her youngest, 38.

“I’ve always been fit and active and very driven but I’d never actually been to a gym until I was 61 and I was looking for something new to do,” says Ms. Simpson, who ran her first marathon at age 60 , finishing first in her age category in the Ottawa Marathon and qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

She completed her personal trainer certification five years later and began taking on clients through Vintage Fitness in Toronto, which specializes in training for people over age 50. Due to the pandemic, she’s delivering training via Zoom, including a 74-year-old client keeping up with her weekly sessions from vacation in Mexico.

Ms. Simpson says that the client could barely do 10 chair lifts when they started and, 10 months later, she can do 60, jumping out of the chair with ease.

Ms. Simpson does a lot of chair work with her clients, motivating them to squat in and out of the seated position because they are practical exercises. Her client di lei wish lists are often about being able to get down on the floor and play with grandchildren or recover from knee surgery or other common ailments of aging, she says.

“Or just living without pain. That’s a biggie for lots of people, ”she says.

Having a mature trainer helps people get over their fears, Ms. Simpson adds.

“A less young fitness trainer – I don’t use the word older – is far less intimidating,” she says. “I’ve had so many people tell me even in their 50s and 60s, that they didn’t want to be trained by a beauty in Lycra who has no idea how they are feeling.”

A mature trainer is aware of the physical limitations and is reassuring, even inspiring, she says.

“I always work out along with them as much as I can and I think that often is motivational.”

Only 39 per cent of Canadian adults aged 65 to 79 are getting the recommended minimum of 7,500 steps per day, according to the 2021 ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Adults.

Far fewer do the recommended strength training twice a week, although study after study link strength training with a reduced risk of mortality and chronic disease and improved cognitive ability, says the report.

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, former athletes and Canadian television hosts best known for their BodyBreak segments, at the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve in Muskoka, Ont.Handout

At 65, Hal Johnson, one of the most widely recognized faces of physical fitness in the country as half of the Body Break duo alongside wife Joanne McLeod, is still practicing and promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. He recently built an outdoor rink to host senior hockey games.

He’s well aware of the physiological changes that happen as the body ages – and how fitness goals change along with them – having had a knee replacement last year. It’s helpful if a trainer is also aware of those limitations, Mr. Johnson says.

“I think having somebody that can relate to what you’re going through, it’s quite different than when you’re 35 or 30 or 20 than if you’re 65,” he says. “They know your limitations. They can relate a bit better, whether it be the knees, or you can’t bend quite as far, or you’re just a lot stiffer than you were when you were 20 years old. “

Medical science has allowed people to live longer, he says.

“But as a society, we’re also a lot heavier than we have ever been before. And I don’t think seniors have escaped that. “

Physical fitness is one of the most important factors in being able to remain at home as we age, yet only 12 per cent of Canadians aged 60 to 79 meet physical activity guidelines, according to the most recent Health Status report by Canada’s chief public health officer .

Jennifer Ferguson has always been physically active. She swam competitively as a child, took up tennis in her 20s and learned to ski in her 30s. She has been a regular gym-goer for 30-plus years.

Now 65, the retired health care communicator shares her passion as a personal trainer.

“My background in health care made it abundantly clear that the healthier you are going into any health crisis, the better off you’re likely to be coming out,” she says.

She also was the caregiver to her mother until her mother’s death at age 93 and resolved to do everything she could to stay healthy in her later life.

“It keeps me fit and if I can inspire and help and support and guide others to take better care of themselves, that’s what I want to do,” she says.

Ms. Ferguson, who also takes clients from Vintage Fitness as well as a few private clients, has clients ranging in age from 58 to 91.

“I can relate well to people my age and older,” she says. “And I’ve had my fair share of injuries and aches and pains, I know what it is to have arthritis. I just have a greater awareness of some of the things my clients are experiencing. “

Fitness goals for mature adults are different than fitness goals for younger people, she says. Her clients di lei are after “functional fitness,” she says, the ability to travel independently, to play with their grandkids, to stand at the counter and prepare a meal.

“They want the stamina to cut the grass and take care of the garden, clean the house, do the laundry. They want to stay in their own home and fitness is one way to help them manage that, ”she says. “Physical activity is as close as we have to a magic pill for health.”

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