Article by Tammy Petersen
There is a window of opportunity to work with older adults as a senior fitness specialist and be part of the global aging success story! Read on to learn more about this chance to make a difference in the lives of older adults by creating a niche in senior fitness.
In this article from The American Academy of Health and Fitness, we’ll tell you more about the opportunities that await a qualified senior fitness professional. We’ll also point out several tips to help you identify the type of advanced knowledge you should be looking for as a senior fitness specialist.
A window of opportunity for the qualified senior fitness specialist
People today are living longer and generally healthier lives. This represents the triumph of public health, medical advancement, and economic development over disease and injury, which have constrained human life expectancy for thousands of years.
But sustained growth of the world’s older population also presents challenges. Population aging now affects economic growth, formal and informal social support systems, and the ability of states and communities to provide resources for older citizens.
How you can help make a difference as a senior fitness specialist
We can think about preparing for older age on both an individual and societal level. On an individual level, people need to focus on preventive health and financial preparedness. Preventative health is where you can help make a difference as a senior fitness specialist.
Infectious disease vs. “lifestyle” diseases
Since the mid-19th century, the life span in the US has nearly doubled. Most of the increase in life expectancy is due to declines in death from infectious disease. Unfortunately, the number of deaths from infectious disease has been replaced by the number of deaths from degenerative or “lifestyle” diseases.
Morbidity is defined as the absence of health. All too often it is a state in which many frail elderly adults live for a long time prior to death. The major chronic diseases that contribute greatly to morbidity are arteriosclerosis, cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and emphysema.
These diseases usually begin early in life, progress throughout the lifespan. They worsen each decade until finally becoming terminal.
An example is diabetes
Diabetes could begin with obesity at age 20, progress to glucose intolerance at age 30, develop into elevated blood glucose at age 40, be indicated by sugar in the urine at age 50, require medication at age 60, and lead to blindness and amputation at age 70. This is not a pretty picture.
It is estimated that the average 65-year-old will spend 7½ years of this remaining lifespan living with some functional disability
It has been estimated that by the year 2040 the average life expectancy of older people could increase by 20 years. By the middle of the 21st century there could be 16 million people in the US over the age of 85. It is also estimated that the average 65-year-old will spend 7½ years of this remaining 17 years living with some functional disability.
If the present rate at which people are being added to the category of those experiencing morbidity is projected to the future, a 600% increase in healthcare costs will occur. Social and medical programs are directly linked to the size and health status of the elderly population in a society.
The quality of life of our elderly – and in fact for all of us – will be affected by the number of years our seniors live. But in addition it will also be affected by how comfortably they spend those remaining years.
A great opportunity exists for senior fitness specialists to work with the medical community
The medical community is good at diagnosing chronic lifestyle diseases, but not necessarily equipped to provide patients with the tools to be successful with the lifestyle changes they recommend. There exists a wonderful opportunity to build a partnership with physicians in your area.
Most physicians will gladly refer patients to you for help with the all-important exercise and nutrition portion of their patients’ treatment programs. In many cases, you have more knowledge in this area than the physician. This is because most MD’s know very little about diet and exercise since they are not taught this in medical school.
How to get a referral
So, often all that you will need to get a referral is for the doctor to be aware of your existence. Then give them an easy way to get the patient to you. A short introduction letter outlining your qualifications and showing your desire to help people make lifestyle changes is a good start.
Be prepared to take up just a few minutes of their time to introduce yourself. Plan to leave a handwritten card or letter and business cards.
But, realize you must first have the training and experience as a senior fitness specialist to ask for these referrals!
Exercise is Medicine®: a global health initiative
Exercise is Medicine® (EIM), is a global health initiative managed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Its vision is to make physical activity assessment and promotion a standard in clinical care.
EIM encourages physicians and other health care providers to include physical activity when designing treatment plans. Then to refer patients to evidence-based exercise programs and qualified exercise professionals. So, skilled exercise professionals are integral to Exercise is Medicine®.
Properly prepared exercise professionals have an opportunity for patient referrals
Patients need community-based solutions (professionals, places, programs) where they can be physically active and receive expert training. So, properly prepared exercise professionals have an opportunity to work with referred patients.
Fitness professionals who do a good job can expect on-going relationships with healthcare providers and practices. So, a senior fitness specialist fits nicely into this group of fitness professionals.
The American Academy of Health and Fitness (AAHF) has a wealth of forms and questionnaires for senior fitness specialists working with the medical community. There is also access to hundreds of pages of free resources from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
These are valuable resources to educate your older clients about many diseases and conditions.
As a senior fitness specialist, you will be working with the largest and fastest growing segment of the fitness market
There are over 73 million Americans who are now 56+ and facing the physical challenges that come with aging. Often identified as Baby Boomers, this group more than any generation to come before them, are focused on maintaining health and fitness.
Above all, their goal is to stay active and continue to enjoy travel and other activities as they age. Likewise, many also have the time and discretionary income to purchase health and fitness related products and services.
Senior fitness is a niche with a shortage of qualified health and fitness professionals
Baby Boomers represent the largest and fastest growing segment of the fitness market with $2.6 trillion in buying power! Add to this a shortage of health and fitness professionals qualified to meet their unique needs. Therefore, you have an incredible opportunity if you choose to become a senior fitness specialist and work with this population!
Who should become a senior fitness specialist?
The ideal candidate to become a senior fitness specialist is an already certified and experienced health or fitness professional.
You will then need a good senior fitness specialty training program. Moreover, this program will build on the knowledge base provided by your core certification and/or degree in the health or fitness field. Consequently, this program should not reiterate training in areas you should already be proficient as a health or fitness professional.
In the same vein, it should focus on advanced training in the many areas important to work with older adults safely and effectively. Later in this article we’ll go into more detail about the specifics of what to look for in a good program.
Beware of senior fitness specialty type training programs that can be completed in a weekend
It might be enticing to sign up for that weekend program that you can complete in a one or two day workshop. Likewise a short home study program completed in a weekend at home. But, you will need more information than can be provided in that time frame. And this is in addition to an already solid training background and core certification.
Therefore, you should carefully consider all that it entails to safely and effectively work with mature and older adults. Above all, don’t take lightly the knowledge needed to be a specialist in the area of senior fitness.
An in-depth training program should likely be worth enough credits to renew your personal training certification
There are numerous programs promising to make you a Senior Fitness Specialist or awarding a Senior Fitness Certification. But many do not provide anywhere near the depth of knowledge needed to work with this special population. Moreover, for most of the US personal training certification organizations such as ACE, ISSA, NASM and NSCA this correlates to 20 contact hours of credit.
Look for a broadly recognized program
Look for a broadly recognized program. Certainly the more credible organizations that have approved a program, the more times it will have been reviewed by experts in the field.
Some of the organizations that you should look for are ACE, ACSM, BOC (athletic training), ISSA, NASM, NSCA and PTAG. Broad approval, along with a high number of CECs/CEUs/contact hours are good indicators of a program that will not disappoint.
Is the designation senior fitness “certified” or senior fitness “specialist” important?
If all you want is an impressive certificate to hang on your wall, then the answer to that would have to be YES! But to clarify, this is not the case if you are truly interested in having a good depth of knowledge. In other words, it will take more than a title to create programs that are both safe and effective for your older adult clients.
You should look for a program that teaches you what you need to know and that imparts in-depth knowledge. In short, this type of program might or might not end in a “specialist” or “certification” designation.
The words “specialist” or “certification” are not always allowed
Some organizations will not allow the use of the word(s) in the title of any continuing education program. Similarly, these organizations will not allow this type of program to culminate with the designation of “certified” or “specialist.
The well respected National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is one of those organizations. So, that designation may not be as important as you might think. Take a close look at the content of a program you are considering. Most importantly, what you can expect to learn should be the deciding factor when choosing a program.
Important areas of knowledge for a senior fitness specialist
Firstly, training for a senior fitness specialist should include an understanding of how the aging process affects the systems of the body. Secondly, it should also identify dietary changes that may be needed. Thirdly, you should learn to develop effective training strategies to improve flexibility, endurance, strength, and optimal function for mature clients.
But above all, it is imperative to understand how to individualize a training regimen that fits the physiological capabilities of mature adults. This includes those who are very frail and those dealing with chronic diseases.
Top four diseases you should be schooled in
The top four chronic diseases to know about are heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and arthritis. In addition, other diseases and afflictions that affect older adults more than the general population are cancer, Parkinson’s, stroke, low back pain, joint replacement surgeries and balance issues.
You certainly need to be well schooled as a senior fitness specialist in all of these areas.
Health and fitness assessment: another knowledge area important for the senior fitness specialist
It is important to complete an in-depth health assessment and fitness assessment prior to working with clients in general. But it becomes even more important when you are working with an older clientele. This is because this group will often be taking multiple medications.
In addition they often have health conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. You absolutely need to know about these things if you are to create safe and effective programs. Moreover, back, shoulder, knee and hip issues (and surgeries for these issues) are also common in this group.
Fitness assessment in the areas of strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility give you a benchmark
In addition, it is also important to understand how to properly assess current fitness levels when health issues are present. Specifically, appropriate fitness assessment techniques will be needed in the areas of strength, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility.
This will be helpful as you design a safe and effective program for your client. Likewise, it will also give you a benchmark. This then is a starting point from which to measure improvement and make adjustments for your client.
Medications and old age often go hand-in-hand. Two-thirds of older adults take at least one prescription drug. And one quarter of the elderly population regularly takes multiple prescription drugs.
Heart disease medications
Heart disease medications and high blood pressure pills present the greatest obstacles and difficulties when it comes to regular exercise. In short, the heart disease medications that you will most commonly deal with are beta-blockers and diuretics. Beta-blockers slow down the heart rate and decrease blood pressure by blocking catecholamine released from the autonomic nervous system.
Common names for beta-blockers are Inderal, Corgard, and Lopressor. These medications can cause depression, fatigue, and dizziness, all of which make exercise difficult.
Because beta-blockers decrease heart rate, HR measures are not valid indicators of exercise intensity for clients taking them. In these cases, you will need to use RPE.
This short discussion of heart disease medications provides an example of the importance of knowing about medications. This is critical information that is necessary to design a safe program for any client, but especially an older client.
A great resource for fitness assessment
Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription, Eighth Edition provides a comprehensive approach to physical fitness appraisal and customized exercise prescription. The text synthesizes research and practice with concepts and theories from exercise physiology, kinesiology, measurement, psychology, and nutrition.
The text reflects the latest exercise testing and prescription guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). In addition you will find physical activity recommendations from the U.S. government and American Heart Association.
Further, it takes into account the most recent ACSM guidelines for medical exam and exercise testing requirements to consider before beginning exercise programs.
If you want to purchase the book, you can find it using the ISBN numbers:
This ISBN/barcode number lets you verify that you’re getting exactly the right version or edition of a book. The 13-digit and 10-digit formats both work. As a result, you can copy either ISBN above and enter into the search function on Amazon to find and purchase your book. Moreover, you can also use this ISBN to search for the textbook from other booksellers, such as the book publisher Human Kinetics.
The American Academy of Health and Fitness (AAHF) offers a continuing education program based on this textbook. Therefore, if you already own the book, you can purchase just a workbook and test.
We are here to help on your journey to become a senior fitness specialist!
Getting the advanced training you need to be a safe and effective senior fitness specialist can seem daunting. But just focus on finding a good training program. Do that and you will soon be on the way to successfully working with this special population. The American Academy of Health and Fitness is here to help you with this all-important training. Therefore, we offer a varied selection of in-depth, advanced continuing education courses.
You will find training in areas such as senior fitness, fitness assessment, senior strength training, back stability, nutrition for special dietary needs, lifestyle wellness coaching and cancer exercise. The home study continuing education course SrFit Mature Fitness is definitely one not to miss! Certainly everything you need to create your niche in senior fitness!
A summary of what you have learned about becoming a senior fitness specialist
- A great opportunity exists for senior fitness specialists to work with the medical community.
- As a senior fitness specialist, you will be working with the largest and fastest growing segment of the fitness market.
- Senior fitness is a niche with a shortage of qualified health and fitness professionals.
- The ideal candidate to become a senior fitness specialist is an already certified and experienced health or fitness professional.
- Beware of training programs that can be completed in a weekend.
- Above all, you should look for a program that imparts in-depth knowledge.
- The best program might or might not end in a “specialist” or “certification” designation.
- Look for a broadly recognized program.