Ageless fitness: Exercise tips for seniors to thrive

Fred Oyugi, a personal trainer and CEO of Japesa Fitness and Adventure, during his routine training session at SGD Fitness Gym on on June 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

If you search for workouts tailored to different age groups on the internet, you will find an astonishing array of over a thousand variations. No longer is exercise solely the domain of the youthful and trendy; seniors are increasingly embracing physical fitness.

While ageing is often linked with slowing down, older adults are challenging this stereotype.

Fred Oyugi, a personal trainer and CEO of Japesa Fitness and Adventure in Nairobi, says maintaining an active lifestyle is essential for a healthy and fulfilling life.  Exercise, he notes, not only enhances physical health but also boosts mental well-being and emotional resilience.

Whether it's taking a leisurely walk in the park or joining a dance class, there are countless ways to stay active and enjoy life to the fullest.

“While exercise types remain similar across ages, intensity and approach differ. At 60, gentler workouts are essential compared to the more vigorous routines suitable for 40-year-olds," he says.

For those in their 60s, light strength training and bodyweight exercises are crucial, he advises.

Regardless of age, Fred  stresses the importance of rest.

"Good training is three sessions a week. Rest is also a workout. Rest periods during workouts vary based on age and fitness level. For older women, longer rest periods of one to three minutes between exercises are essential to ensure they can perform the next set effectively without fatigue.

Fred notes that physical activity and regular exercise offer a multitude of benefits for seniors. These include increased energy levels, reduced risk or alleviation of chronic diseases, improved quality of sleep, decreased joint pain, stronger bones and muscles, and enhanced brain health and cognitive function.

“These advantages underscore the importance of staying physically active as we age, promoting overall well-being and a higher quality of life,” he underscores.

Japesa Fitness trainer Fred Oyugi performs a back-squat exercise using the Smith Machine at the gym on June 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Mobility exercises

According to the personal trainer, several highly effective mobility exercises tailored for seniors include gentle neck stretches that involve tilting the head left, right, forward, and backwards to alleviate tension in the neck and upper back.

Seated leg lifts performed in a sturdy chair with feet placed flat on the floor help improve hip and thigh mobility by lifting one leg at a time and holding briefly before lowering.

Hip rotations, whether standing or sitting and using support as necessary, involve circular motions clockwise and counterclockwise to enhance hip mobility and reduce discomfort in the lower back.

Additionally, knee extensions done while seated in an upright position with feet flat on the floor strengthen the quadriceps and improve flexibility in the knees. These exercises are beneficial for seniors seeking to maintain or improve their mobility, contributing to overall physical well-being and quality of life.

Japesa Fitness trainer Fred Oyugi performs a leg press at the gym on June 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Muscle strengthening

Furthermore, Fred highlights the effectiveness of bodyweight workouts for seniors, emphasising their ability to strengthen muscles without relying on external weights.

He notes that exercises like leg workouts can still be beneficial, acknowledging concerns about knee issues that might limit the use of weighted exercises, such as squats. Instead, focusing on bodyweight leg exercises can provide a safer alternative while still promoting strength and mobility in older adults.

“Leg workouts can be challenging for older persons due to knee issues, particularly when it comes to exercises like squats that involve weights. Older adults often already have knee problems, and performing squats with added weights can potentially exacerbate these issues and lead to injuries.

However, leg workouts using just body weight can still be safely incorporated into their exercise routine. This approach allows for strengthening and conditioning the legs without putting undue strain on compromised joints, promoting fitness and mobility while minimising the risk of injury,” he says.

Japesa Fitness trainer Fred Oyugi performs a backstretch at the gym on June 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Outdoor exercises

The gym isn't the only arena where his clients thrive; hiking and outdoor activities are integral to his holistic approach to fitness.

“Fitness isn't just about the gym; it's about enjoying life and staying active. So what we do is we prepare them for life after retirement. Preparing mentally is as important as preparing physically," he stresses.

Through his guidance, older adults not only build muscle but also fortify their minds against the challenges that come with ageing.

Minding the posture and diet

Posture, another cornerstone of Fred's training, is emphasised to prevent injuries. "A slight mistake in posture can lead to significant issues," he warns, underscoring the importance of proper form in every exercise.

In terms of diet, he advocates for a balanced approach. "Exercise and diet go hand in hand," he asserts. "What you eat affects how you perform and recover." He encourages his clients to adopt sustainable eating habits that complement their fitness goals.

Japesa Fitness trainer Fred Oyugi performs a backstretch at the gym on June 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Fitness trend 

The evolution of fitness demographics is evident to Fred. "Gone are the days when gyms were dominated by the young," he observes. "Nowadays, older adults are taking charge of their health." His clientele spans a wide age range, with individuals in their 80s embracing fitness as a lifestyle.

Other workouts include shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders forward and backward in a slow, controlled manner to improve shoulder mobility and reduce stiffness.

Ankle circles: While seated, lift one foot slightly off the floor and rotate your ankle in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Switch to the other foot.

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