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Successful Aging: Ask these questions to help you exercise, get in shape and stay fit

Q. I am a 78-year old man who is somewhat out of shape and a bit overweight. The woman I am seeing is quite fit and has strongly encouraged me to try to achieve the same. I have surrendered and now want to find a personal trainer. Where do I start? E.S

Dear E.S.

Kudos to you for taking the first step and that step is a commitment. There are many ways to stay fit – walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, tai chi and Pilates, to name a few.

Your choice of a personal fitness coach has its advantages. Typically, you will have a program specifically designed for your goals, life stage and current physical status. Additionally, you will receive personal attention with some monitoring of your progress.

So where to begin? Meet with your physician, particularly if you have some pre-existing condition such as a cardiac problem, high blood pressure or osteoporosis. Ask if there are any exercises you should avoid. Get an OK and then proceed.

Questions to ask yourself before the first appointment. What are my goals? Do I want to increase my strength, balance, posture and flexibility? All four are fitting and important. Do I want to meet at a gym or do I want a trainer to come to my home? Do I have the means to pay for a private trainer?

Questions the trainer should ask. What do you want to accomplish? Have you exercised before and do you have any physical limitations? Are you taking medications, have you ever had a joint replacement and are you cleared for exercise?

Questions to ask the trainer/coach (These are recommended by the International Council in Active Aging):

Have you had experience training clients around my age? Note: Don’t be too rigid on this since a trainer with knowledge and interpersonal skills may adapt to older clients.

How will you decide the best exercise program for a person my age with my activity level?

Have you had experience dealing with older adults with a chronic condition similar to mine? (This assumes you have some chronic conditions.)

Tell me about your background. Listen for academic degrees that demonstrate knowledge of exercise science. Do not disregard a trainer who might be self-taught with multiple certifications, who also might be knowledgeable.

Do you have a fitness certification? This is not imperative but is helpful. An example is the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM); also note a university certificate.

Have you had some formal education about physical changes that typically accompany aging? Again, this is not imperative but would be very helpful. College courses or workshops in gerontology or a certificate program in aging or senior fitness would be a bonus.

What will you do if I say, “This exercise hurts?” Muscle soreness is common when starting an exercise program. Pain is a sign that something is wrong. If the trainer says “Just work through the pain,” avoid that trainer.

Since I am not an exercise fan, how will you make it interesting? A good fitness coach will not have you repeat the same exercises every week.

How do you stay up to date on exercise and aging issues?

Will you come to my house or do you work mainly at a gym?

How much do the training sessions cost? The average cost of a personal training session is $50, although this varies.

What is the cancellation policy if I want to stop?

Are there make-up sessions if I have to miss an appointment, particularly if I have committed to a training package?

Do you have liability insurance?

Would you mind if I contacted a few references of past or present clients?

Also, make some observations. Is the trainer a good listener? Are the trainer’s clothes, posture and verbal skills a good match for you?

Here’s a big one – do you like the person? Does he or she have a sense of humor and personality that you like? Can you envision spending a few hours a week with this person?

E.S., Thank you for your good question. Particularly in later life, exercise is no longer an option but a basic necessity. Good luck and enjoy the journey to fitness and being the best you can be.

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