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As a fitness instructor of older adults, and being in that category myself at age 76, I am aware of my participants' various health issues and the daily challenges they face. Most of us who exercise at this age are simply trying to make it through another year in the best health possible. It is quality of life that we hope to maintain. Over time, it becomes more obvious who seems to be the healthiest and fittest and who seems to sabotage their own success....and why. 2
This is not based on research or a study. This is just my observations after teaching fitness for sixteen years. In no particular order, then, here are the twelve characteristics of a healthy and fit adult which I most commonly see within my regular and persistent fitness class participants.
1: Has a Routine (and tends to stick to it!)
Everyone benefits from routines. They are particularly helpful when dealing with mental and emotional health, but having a routine for exercise can also be very beneficial. Routines anchor us, give us control over our lives, and reduce stress. When the future is unknown or uncertain, stress will often raise its ugly head. Routines will help to suppress fears of the unknown.
Participants who attend fitness regularly seem to benefit greatly from adhering to a routine. They attend regularly, they learn the routines and exercises, they make friends, and thus class becomes more pleasurable and less stressful. Essentially, they feel a comfortableness with being there and participating. At the end of the day, they can confidently go to sleep, knowing that they did what needed to be done to remain healthy and fit, rather than berating themselves for not exercising. Those who do not have a routine tend to adapt and adjust on a daily basis, often causing them to miss exercising.
Having a routine allows for a plan for the day which makes most of us feel safer. It gives us calm stability because we know what is happening next. If memory and cognitive issues are beginning to creep in, then having a scheduled routine also makes life easier.
2: Is Curious
In order to take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically, we have to have a curious mind. We should always ask questions: Why does that hurt? What are the side effects of that medication? What does the research say about exercise? How much do I need? What kind of exercise do I need to do?
Finding answers to questions always makes us less stressed. Curious people make informed decisions about their health because they have asked the difficult questions and sought the best answers they can find. They leave little to chance.
3: Sees a doctor when Needed
There are routine medical exams which everyone should be aware of: mammograms, pap smears, colonoscopies, eye exams, dental checks, or blood tests. We can do some regular check-ups ourselves, such as taking our own blood pressure, but other tests need to be done at the lab, at the doctor's office, or at the hospital. Everyone should know when it's time for a particular test and make the appointment to see their doctor. As we age, there are also vaccines to consider: flu, shingles, and pneumonia, for example.
Those who plan these routine check-ups, and make sure their vaccines are up-to-date, are more likely to be healthy and thus rarely miss class.
4: Studies and Learns
A healthy adult is also a healthy skeptic. Aware of the scientific method, a healthy adult pays attention to the research and knows when they are being conned. Decisions about health and fitness can often be determined by studying evidence-based research, reading articles from reliable science-based sources, and even taking a course in anatomy or psychology.
A healthy, fit individual is not taken in by alternative medical practices. Each practice is evaluated and the individual determines its merits based on research and personal interactions. When we are desperate for an answer to our health problems, it is fairly easy to be drawn in by con artists. A healthy dose of skepticism will always be a benefit.
5: Listens to the advice of professionals
There are professionals in many fields of health and fitness. It makes sense to listen to experts in the field, whether it is a doctor, a physiotherapist, or a fitness instructor. Healthy, fit older adults know that they can learn much from people who have studied and practiced within their field of expertise.
After seeking advice and recommendations, it is useful to follow up with your own research and studies. If further research reveals nothing questionable, then one can go ahead and follow the advice given.
6: Eats a healthy diet
While there have been many changes in what constitutes a healthy diet over the years, there have been some constants. Applying common sense to your diet will go a long way to improving it. Breaking bad habits is not easy, but one can always benefit from starting some new, better habits.
Generally speaking, we need to reduce our intake of saturated fat, sugar, and salt. As well, there is a healthy amount of calories one should consume in a day — based on a person's height and weight. Everyone is aware of the value of fruit and vegetables and various sources of protein. Limitation of carbs which come from grains, for instance, can be helpful.
One does not have to be a nutritionist to pay attention to what one eats. However, it is necessary to educate oneself (refer back to #2 and #4) and find out what works for you. Avoid fads (see #9 ahead).
7: Has a Positive, Balanced Outlook
Life has its ups and downs; it is sometimes difficult to find balance. It is perhaps more difficult to maintain a positive outlook on life than it is to do anything else — particularly as we age and as we face more and more medical challenges. But we know that having a positive outlook on life will help us get through each day with a little less stress than we might have.
Having a positive outlook also reminds us of the first point on this list: having a routine. Routines help us to focus and stay on-target with our goals.
8: Exercises correctly, regularly, and consistently
If I were listing these in order of importance, this might very well have been #1. People who attend fitness class regularly and consistently are generally healthier and more fit than those who come less often. But what if they do other things on the other days? you may ask. Successful exercisers know how much time they need to spend on each type, and by attending regularly they learn the proper forms for strength training and balance exercises. Most people find it easiest to do this in a fitness class or with a personal trainer rather than on their own.
Attending fitness classes regularly allows a participant to learn the steps, hear the instructions about form, and to learn about the purposes of each section of the class. The instructor knows how to lead the class through warm-up and cardiovascular exercises, through strength and balance training and flexibility stretches. During the class, the instructor may often give the class helpful and useful information.
It is not rare for a participant to inform me that they injured themselves while doing another activity or sport. This is often because they were trying something too difficult or didn't properly train or warm-up prior to an activity. It is critical, particularly for older adults, that exercise is the right kind for them and repeated often.
9: Avoids fads
The fitness industry, like many other areas of our society, is subject to fads and gimmicks. We are often told in commercials to just try "this one simple trick" and you will lose pounds off your waist. Or just "avoid this one food" and you will be sure to lose 50 pounds. These fads come and go. Everyone needs to be cautious of them.
During the 1980's, the main slogan in the fitness industry was "No pain, no gain." We know now that that was wrong. Smart participants know the difference between evidence-based research regarding fitness — and con men who "sell" you something that will bring you "instant success" without any work at all!
10: Doesn't smoke and Drinks responsibly, if at all
Despite years of information regarding the dangers of smoking, there are still many people who smoke. We know that it harms the person who is smoking and we know that second-hand smoke can be equally as harmful. If you are a smoker, the first thing you should do to get more healthy is to try to quit smoking. It is not easy. It is an addiction. But quitting is a good idea.
The damage to our bodies from alcohol is less obvious, perhaps, but still alarming. A smart participant knows that alcohol consumption must and should be limited.
11: Gets enough sleep
Easier said than done. And many older adults have trouble sleeping. But sleeping is vital to our good health. We cannot possibly survive without sleep. If you have problems with sleeping, you should see your doctor or even ask to attend a sleep clinic. Finding answers to your insomnia is essential for good health.
Much research about the importance of sleep has come out in the last couple of decades. We know that we can literally get sick from lack of sleep. If you have a serious insomnia problem, you need to seek assistance and guidance.
12: Gets Dental and Eye care
For some strange reason, in our society we have separated dental care from the rest of our health care issues. But having strong teeth and gums is essential for our well-being. Pain and discomfort wears a person down. Everyone should see a dentist at least once a year — more if you have unique problems. Daily care at home, of course, includes routine brushing and flossing.
Those of us who wear glasses know how important vision is. We can't and don't take it for granted. As we age, there are more conditions that can be harmful to our eyes — cataracts and glaucoma being two of the most common. Regular check-ups become as important as going to the dentist once a year. If you have any difficulty with your vision, you should have your eyes checked as soon as possible.
None of these characteristics comes easily and without effort, but they can and should be cultivated by anyone who wants to be healthier and fitter. A certain amount of determination is required to establish new boundaries for yourself and then live up to them.
- Genetics and Our Health
- Fitness Class Benefits
- Fitness Principles
- Motivation: How do we stay involved in physical activities?
- Book Review: Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?
- Book Review: Body by Science
- Book Review: Man's Search for Meaning
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.