Many of your members over the age of 40 have been exercising throughout their lives. They’re not afraid of hard exercise, but they don’t want to get injured while doing it. This creates the opportunity to provide this gym-going demographic with fitness solutions that meet their needs. With the right selection of equipment and programming, accommodating the active aging crowd could turn into your facilities’ secret weapon in rebuilding and maintaining membership.

Exercise Can Extend the Lifespan  

Researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Columbia University looked at data from the 1997-2001 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and found that older adults who met twice-weekly strength training guidelines had longer life expectancy.

According to the data, older adults who performed strength training at least two times per week had 46 percent LOWER odds of death for any reason when compared to those who did not participate in strength training. In addition, adults in the survey who did regular strength training had 41% lower odds of cardiac death and almost 20% reduced risk of dying from cancer. Offering a glimpse into the many benefits of a healthy lifestyle, the study group who participated in strength training were more likely to have normal body weight, engage in aerobic exercise and to abstain from alcohol and tobacco (Kraschnewski, et al. 2016).

Scientists do not fully understand why aging, a natural process that affects most systems of the body, happens, however, the study referenced above is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that exercise, specifically high intensity exercise, could slow down or even reverse how the passage of time changes the human body. Consistent exercise can promote optimal health and could actually be the means for extending the lifespan.

Baby Boomers Are the First Generation of Health Club Members 

The invention of Nautilus strength training machines in 1970 made resistance training easier to perform and helped launch the modern fitness industry. As health clubs became a mainstream business serving the needs of adults who wanted the benefits of regular exercise, the Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) were young adults who joined gyms to workout and be social.

Many of those who started exercising in the 70s or 80s are still active today because according to a 2019 report produced by the Physical Activity Council, ‘Workout with weights’, ‘Workout with machines,’ and ‘fitness classes’ are 3 of the 10 most popular recreational activities for adults over the age of 55, important evidence that the Baby Boomer generation is the first one in modern history to make exercise a priority throughout their lifespan.

Generation X Grew Up with the Fitness Industry 

If the Baby Boomers were the first generation of health club members, then Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) is the first generation who grew up going to the childcare centers in a gym as their parents exercised. This has resulted in a generation who has grown up understanding the role that exercise plays as a vital habit of a healthy lifestyle.

The oldest Gen Xer’s are now in their fifties and have likely been lifelong exercisers themselves. These members have the ability to function at a high level of fitness and do not want to be relegated to lower-intensity exercise just because of the year they were born.

Help Your Members Use Exercise to Control the Aging Process 

High intensity strength-training can stimulate the production of growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and testosterone (T) even into the later years of the lifespan and it’s these muscle-building hormones that are essential for slowing down the effects of aging. Exercise, especially high intensity exercise, just may be the fountain of youth that has eluded generations of explorers and there are two specific types of exercise that deliver these results: muscle force production, which includes exercises for both strength and power, and high intensity interval training (HIIT).

This means that the HIIT and strength training workout classes on your schedule are no longer just for burning calories and looking good, they can now be promoted as the means for slowing the aging process.

8 Ways that High-Intensity Exercise Could Slow Down the Aging Process: 

1. There is a difference between training for muscle size – technically called hypertrophy, and training for strength – increasing a muscle’s ability to generate force. Performing a high number of repetitions to the point of fatigue can increase muscle size. On the other hand, using a heavy weight for fewer repetitions can improve the amount of force a muscle can generate. For adults over the age of 50, the focus should definitely be on the latter – improving muscle strength because using heavier resistance can enhance the force output of a muscle without significantly changing its size.

2. Strength training and plate-loaded machines allow older adults to safely use the heavier amounts of resistance that can deliver benefits. Strength training is completely safe for everyone, especially older adults, but free weight equipment like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or medicine balls require both balance and coordination which could be challenging for some older adults. Machines can deliver the benefits of strength training with maximal safety.

3. Strength training with heavier weights can increase intramuscular coordination, the number of type II motor unit units and muscle fibers engaged within a specific muscle. Compound, multi-joint exercises like the leg press, shoulder press, seated row, chest press or lat pulldown can improve inter-muscular coordination, the ability of many muscles to work together to generate and control high levels of force through multiple joints.

4. Strength training and HIIT can elevate levels of anabolic (meaning muscle-building) hormones, specifically testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), used to repair muscle fibers damaged during exercise. Yes, even in the later years of the human lifespan, strength training can produce the hormones that build muscle.

5. Strength training and HIIT have both shown to be effective for increasing the production of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein responsible for stimulating the growth of new neurons in the brain along with enhancing communication between existing pathways. In short, lifting heavy could improve brain health and reduce the risk of developing a cognitive disease.

6. Strength training with heavy weights can help improve self-confidence. Having the ability to lift heavy stuff gives your members the confidence they need to handle common challenges such as placing a bag in the overhead bin on an airplane, carrying a heavy piece of furniture while reorganizing a room or bringing home heavy items from the store.

7. Strength training not only makes skeletal muscles stronger, but it also improves the function of the heart and its ability to move blood around the body, which can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks while lowering the chance of developing other chronic diseases like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

8. Consistent strength training with heavy weights can result in the muscles remaining in a state of semi-contraction resulting in muscle definition. Muscle definition occurs as the result of muscles remaining in a state of semi-contraction and heavy strength training recruits the larger type-II muscle fibers responsible for a muscle’s appearance.

An exercise program does not need to be overly complicated, with different exercises for each body part, to slow down aging. It does, however, need to be performed consistently and with fluctuating levels of intensity. Free weights. Strength-training machines. Cardio machines. Bodyweight. There is not one, single specific piece of equipment that is most effective for the high-intensity exercise necessary to slow aging.

For best results, workouts to slow the aging process should use all types of equipment but at different times and with varying amounts of intensity. For example, bodyweight training can be extremely effective for developing core strength. The HIIT Bike or HIIT Rower can be used for HIIT. Nautilus machines can be used for circuit strength training. Equipment from Core Health & Fitness, combined with the programs created by your fitness department, are the means for helping your members to add years of high-quality living to their lives.

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Pete McCall is a Core Health & Fitness Master Instructor, author of Ageless Intensity, Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple, host of the All About Fitness podcast, an ACE and NASM-certified personal trainer, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), international fitness educator and fitness blogger. In addition, Pete holds a master’s degree in exercise science and has been educating fitness professionals for more than 15 years. BOOK

Kraschnewski, J., Sciamanna, C., Poger, J., Rovniak, L., Lehman, E., Cooper, A., Ballentine, N. And Ciccolo, J. Is strength training associated with mortality benefits? A 15 year cohort study of US older adults. Preventive Medicine, 2016; 87: 121.