What is a Senior Fitness Program?
Senior Fitness Programs (SFP) are for people age 65 and older, and may be available through your Medicare plan. For example, your Medicare Advantage Plan may include Silver Sneakers.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Fitness programs vary based on your Medicare insurance provider. As a result, your Medicare plans may or may not include a fitness program. Medicare beneficiaries without a fitness plan can choose a stand-alone fitness program.
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Evidence-based Senior Fitness Programs
If you do not have a Medicare fitness program, please consider the following “evidence-based physical activity programs.” These fitness programs have been proven to produce measurable health benefits for seniors.” (ncoa.org)
Enhance Fitness is a “low-cost ongoing evidence-based group exercise and falls prevention program.” It helps seniors of all fitness levels become “more active, energized, and empowered to sustain independent lives.”
Classes meet three times per week for a full hour of physical activity lead by a certified instructor. The fitness program provides seniors with the following activities:
- Warm-up (5 min)
- Cardiovascular workout (20 min)
- Cool-down (5 min)
- Upper and lower body strength training with weights (20 min)
- Stretching to keep your body flexible (10 min)
Enhance Fitness classes also include dynamic and static balance exercises.
Geri-Fit is a “highest tier level III evidence-based” strength-training exercise program for seniors. It’s for “older adults who want to improve their strength, balance, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance.”
In a Geri-Fit class, you work out at your own pace. The instructor provides “one-on-one assistance” to help you lift weights correctly. New participants start with 2-lbs dumbells. As your strength increases, you can use heavier dumbells to build strength and balance.
You perform most of the Geri-Fit exercises while seated in a chair. Classes are 45-minutes and meet 2 or 3 times per week. Alternatively, you can enroll in a Ger-Fit course for 12 weeks (24 classes).
Lifting weights can help prevent bone loss. Please read the article, Does Medicare Cover Prolia? and learn about this injectable osteoporosis drug.
Weekly Workout for Seniors
Dr. Stuart McGill’s article, Seven-Day Workout Cycle, provides seniors with a structure for staying fit into old age. The following is a 7-day weekly fitness program for seniors:
- Strength training for two days
- Mobility training for two days
- “Something else”: two days
- Rest: one day
For example, a sample week may look like the following:
- Monday strength training
- Tuesday “something else”
- Wednesday mobility training
- Thursday “something else”
- Friday strength training
- Saturday mobility training
- Sunday rest day
Please avoid three consecutive training days. Instead, put your rest day after two consecutive training days. On “Something else” days, you could bicycle ride, walk, hike, or swim. Do whatever you like that gets your heart pumping. However, please abstain from exercise on your rest day.
Senior Workout Recommendations
Dr. McGill recommends the following guidelines to ensure your workout best suits your capabilities:
First, lightly challenge your capabilities without exceeding them. When the going gets tough, lower your intensity by slowing down or lifting less weight. Otherwise, you will need an extra day to recover. Dr. McGill says, “It’s better to have two moderately easy days of activity than one hard day and then two days off.”
If you feel sore after a workout or the next day, McGill recommends reducing the workout load (weight) or duration (time). For example, cut your exercise time in half and spread the training over two days. Then slowly increase training time.
Dr. McGill recommends you limit each incremental step to 10 percent. For example, if your workout is 15 minutes, gradually increase this duration by 1.5 minutes to 16.5 minutes.
According to McGill, any “well-rounded fitness program for seniors” has four components: mobility, strength, and endurance. Dr. McGill recommends you focus on different components throughout the week. For a fitness framework, please follow McGill’s Seven-Day Workout Cycle.