Myths About Exercise And Older Adults

Today’s guest blog is with physical therapist Bill Jones. Bill has been a physical therapist for 20 plus years and is still going strong! He understands the value in exercise especially with the older adult population. He has a unique perspective on movement that I wanted to share with everyone. When it comes to injuries and pain, Bill is no stranger to it and will tell you why it shouldn’t keep you from moving. After watching Bills response on video or reading our interview, you should come away with some reasons why you should start to move more and challenge the notion you are too “old” !



Fitness Challenges for Older Adults

Bill had some folks from his gym talk about the challenges of exercising as older adults


Bill: Pedro! I’m wondering what an older adult really is!!

Pedro: Good point Bill lol. Let’s define it as 50 + years of age. Bill, you've worked with lots of older adults in your time as a physical therapist. In your opinion, what are the biggest obstacles for older adults and exercise?

Bill: Obstacles: Fear of pain, fear of what others may think, fear of what Family may think, family that is overprotective. Thinking they have to do a lot of stuff. Essentially most of the fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real”. Most “obstacles” are not totally real. A lot of people are just not asking the right question.

If someone tells me: They don’t have time. My response would be “If I could show/tell you how you have enough time would you be willing to start?” If they say they are afraid it would hurt. My response would be “If I could show you ways it would not hurt would you be willing to start?” Eventually, if you keep responding in this fashion, you’ll get to what they consider their real obstacle/objection. An “obstacle” to an “older person” may be no different than any excuse you hear from someone much younger…it’s really just an excuse. Sure there could be other folks with “obstacles”, say someone that is “morbidly obese”. I’ve had a lot of patients in the 300-600 range that got started. Or the “wickedly weak”…I started with a woman about 2 years ago that was in her late 60s or early 70s that survived cancer, a hip fracture, and a systemic infection before I met her. My first day I found she could not raise her arms over 90 degrees of flexion and could only walk with a walker about 10 feet. She now drives, walks with a cane, does stairs. She circuit trains with weights (does “drop sets” even).

Fear Of Movement

Pedro: Lots of older adults are scared to move because of the diagnosis given to them via an MRI , X-Ray, or their doctor telling them they shouldn't do certain movements. What are your thoughts on imaging results and how much importance we should put into them? How do you let your clients know that it is ok to move?

Bill: Hell a lot of younger folks are just as scared. (Watch my video to get more details)

Pedro: You understand the importance of exercise. What do you recommend for older adults when it comes to exercise and why is it important for them?

Bill: Find something they would do. Not everyone likes to lift weight, jog, walk, etc. There is no cut and dry kinda thing to tell them.

Pedro: Tell us a bit about your gym and the population you train. What is some advice you have for older adults when starting an exercise program?

Bill: I have a warehouse gym. No heat, no air. We open only 3 hours a week. This summer we’ll open for an extra easy day. It’s always a group session. Every workout is different. Every single one. I like it like that. It is physically and mentally challenging. I like to think the different things we do is not only stimulating to the physical body but to the brain as well via brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF. If we use a piece of equipment differently the stimulation is different to the body and the brain. My brain also gets more stimulation by having to come up with something different every time.

Since every workout is different the brain is stimulated by the novel movements, different techniques involved, and the intensity levels. Say we may do “Tabata” type stuff one day on everything, maybe nothing but core/abs one day, using only a chair one day. We may do some balance stuff on 10 foot 2x4s. We lift, carry, run, jog, jump, hop, roll…we act like kids…or at least try to get back to that stage to a degree. So we stimulate the vestibular system, the nervous system, proprioceptive system, circulatory system…

Novel Workouts for Fitness

I find the choices of exercise and movement is endless. Our intensity differs every time but ultimately it is hard. I don’t judge things by monitors more so just “perceived exertion” in a bastardized kinda way.No effort, No progress. While we all do the same workout the weights may be different, the rest periods may be slightly different, the reps may be different if someone runs outta gas, and some exercises are modified for individual. The bottom line for me is: PLAY. Our workouts are play time. When I was a kid I had no idea what I would be doing. Could be football (yep we did some stupid, full contact, tackle football without pad some weekends. Hell sometimes we might have 3-4 on a team and sometimes 20!).

We might play basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, climb trees, ride bikes, etc. It wasn’t structured. So our workouts, while stimulating many systems on purpose, are just “pick up” games. Oh and I always tell anyone new to do less than half of what everyone else does. Not weight but reps. As far as weights go I just tell people not to go too heavy. I’ve had some folks say they need to get in shape before they work out with us…when they show up I still tell them to do half or less.

Pedro:Any last thoughts you'd like to share for older adults who aren't quite sure they should start an exercise program?

Bill: If someone is unsure they may just not have reached that point to where it is important. A last example is a friend of mine. He is 59 or 60. A couple of years ago he was hovering in the 300 pound range. A visit to his doc show he now had diabetes and was having to inject insulin 4 times a day. That was enough reason for him to rethink his life. He started with diet and lost about a person. He wanted more. He ran into me at Walmart one day. I hadn’t seen him in a while and commented on his weight loss. He said he had been trying to find me for whatever he could do next. He’s been hanging in with us for over a year now! After the weight loss and exercise he no longer is on any meds.

Bill Jones workout blog: