As fitness professionals, we are constantly seeking ways to adapt and improve our exercise programmes to suit the diverse needs of our clients. A recent study, “Physical Activity Level and Specific Type of Exercises Among US Middle-Aged and Older Adults: Findings From the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance Survey“, provides valuable insights into the exercise preferences and behaviours of adults aged 50 and older. This article aims to translate these findings into practical strategies for fitness professionals.

Key Findings of the Study

The study, conducted by Ashley Kuzmik and colleagues, analysed data from the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System to understand the physical activity patterns of older adults in the United States. The key findings were:

  • Walking and Gardening as Preferred Activities: Walking was the most participated type of exercise, followed by gardening. These activities were popular across all demographics, including different sexes, races, and age groups.
  • Variations in Exercise Preferences: There were notable differences in exercise preferences based on race/ethnicity and sex. For instance, non-Hispanic Black adults were more likely to participate in walking but less likely to engage in gardening compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Gender Differences in Exercise Intensity: Men were more inclined towards strenuous exercises compared to women.

Translating Research into Practice

Based on these findings, fitness professionals can develop tailored exercise programmes that resonate with the preferences and capabilities of middle-aged and older adults. Here are some examples:

1. Walking Programmes

Given the popularity of walking, fitness professionals can design walking programmes that vary in intensity and duration to cater to different fitness levels. For instance:

  • Beginner Walking Groups: Start with short distances and gradually increase the length and pace.
  • Nature Walks: Organise walks in parks or nature trails to combine physical activity with the therapeutic effects of nature.
  • Urban Exploration Walks: Plan routes that explore different parts of the city, adding an element of discovery and social interaction.

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2. Gardening-Based Activities

Gardening can be both a relaxing and physically engaging activity. Fitness professionals can collaborate with community gardens to offer:

  • Gardening Workshops: Teach basic gardening skills that also involve physical activity, like digging, planting, and weeding.
  • Garden Yoga: Combine the tranquillity of a garden setting with gentle yoga exercises – ideal for improving flexibility and reducing stress.

3. Strength and Balance Exercises

Considering the preference for more strenuous activities among men and the importance of strength and balance in aging populations, include:

  • Circuit Training: Set up stations with different exercises focusing on strength, balance, and flexibility.
  • Chair Exercises: For those with limited mobility, chair exercises can improve strength and balance without the risk of falls.

4. Group Fitness Classes

Group classes can provide social interaction, which is vital for this age group. Options include:

  • Dance Fitness: Classes like Zumba or ballroom dancing cater to both physical activity and social engagement.
  • Aqua Aerobics: Water-based exercises are excellent for those with joint issues or limited mobility.

5. Tai Chi and Yoga

These low-impact exercises are excellent for improving balance, flexibility, and mental wellbeing. They can be adapted for all levels and are particularly beneficial for older adults.

The study by Kuzmik et al. highlights the importance of understanding the preferences and needs of middle-aged and older adults when designing exercise programmes. By incorporating activities like gardening, and tailored strength and balance exercises, fitness professionals can create engaging, effective, and enjoyable fitness programmes for this demographic. Remember, the key is to offer variety, adaptability, and a sense of community to keep older adults physically active and socially engaged.

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  1. Kuzmik, A., Boltz, M., Kim, K.-T., Ma, Y., Weng, X., & Wang, L. (2023). Physical Activity Level and Specific Type of Exercises Among US Middle-Aged and Older Adults: Findings From the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Click here to review the full research article 

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