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Over 50? You can still get in shape

older students learn in fitness classes how to stay fit

Life after 50 can be the most fulfilling phase of life if increasing aches, pains and health problems do not get in the way.

Exercise is essential to staying healthy, but many people do not know where to start or how to adjust their current routines for their changing bodies.

Professionally instructed group fitness programs can be a great way to stay healthy and social, but choosing the right program and the right trainer can be the difference between serious improvements and serious injury.

Patty was 61 when she moved to Western North Carolina. The move overstressed her body, and she was starting to have muscle aches and decreased flexibility. She was looking for a personal trainer when she found ForEver Fit, a unique group exercise program taking place at CrossFit Asheville.

The program used weights and functional movements to build strength and coordination, and enhance quality of life and longevity for people over age 50.

Patty had not previously practiced lifting heavy weights, but after 2 years of the program, the 64 year old can now lift greater than her body weight from the floor in a deadlift. She can squat for long periods while gardening and easily step up onto high surfaces outdoors.

“I’ve gotten so much stronger and more flexible,” Patty said. “At age 64 you really want to hang on to what you’ve got. This program is a total panacea.”

There are many people like Patty in WNC who participate in high intensity functional fitness programs like CrossFit. It is now widely accepted by researchers and medical professionals that people over 50 who safely lift heavy weights and perform high intensity exercise can have remarkable health benefits that counteract the normal aging process.

These include positive effects on bone density, muscle mass, cardiovascular function, balance, memory, happiness, independence and longevity.

Tom, a participant at Asheville CrossFit, is a physician who has been practicing CrossFit for over 10 years and is now 50. From his experience and knowledge, he believes you can be in your 70s or older and benefit from CrossFit.

Because of the variety of movements performed, it prevents overuse of one muscle group, making it superior to just walking or running.

Drew, now 52, has been training at CrossFit Asheville since he was 44.

“What’s beautiful about it is how open it is to everybody,” Drew said. ”How flexible, welcoming and accommodating for each individual who walks through the door regardless of age, fitness level or any other characteristic.”

He has experienced benefits including standing up straighter and taller with more confidence and vigor, much improved physical health and building great friendships.

Most people who practice CrossFit say the sense of community and social support motivates them to continue and provides more fulfillment than the exercise alone.

Marti, age 65, is an RN who has been participating in CrossFit for 15 years.

“The myth of aging,” Marti said, ”is that our bodies have to decline.”

With 15 years of experience training at different gyms, Marti feels it’s very important that people over the age of 50 have a good coach who understands the needs of older athletes. She said it can feel isolating to be in a class with 20 year olds and have a young, well-meaning coach who may push too hard, not understanding the fitness level of the older adult.

Coaches who specialize in older adults know that with age there is less joint fluid and cushion and that repetitions have to be adjusted to avoid injury. Older adults may have limitations in mobility or old injuries that must be worked around.

In our youth focused culture, there is often an unintentional lack of understanding for the older adult’s experience.

The priority of a dedicated older adults fitness coach is the wellness of her participants, which means avoiding injuries as much as possible.

LeighAnne, age 51, has been practicing CrossFit for 2 years at CrossFit Weaverville X-Caliber. Her daughter invited her to try CrossFit and she hesitated, thinking she wasn’t capable of lifting heavy weights or performing high intensity exercises.

She was trying to lose weight through diet, walking and jogging without success, in part due to hypothyroidism. With her daughter’s encouragement, she gave CrossFit a try and was amazed at the support she received from her coach and the people in her class. Since starting CrossFit she has lost 17 pounds and feels her energy level is much improved.

Scott, age 52, who trains at Summit CrossFit in Fletcher, also experienced positive changes in body composition.

“I was terribly out of shape, completely sedentary, with a total dad bod,” Scott said, describing himself before starting CrossFit two years ago.

Since then he has lost 27 pounds and gained visible abs. More importantly, he says he’s never been able to move better and lift weights without joint issues the way he does now.

Scott had words of advice for anyone over the age of 50 who is considering starting Crossfit.

“Do it on faith for a period of time,” he said. “Keep at it and you will see better results than anything you’ve ever done in terms of endurance, health, and ability to move. Rest as hard and eat as well as you train. You can’t get away with the same things you did in your 20s, 30s or 40s.”

To meet the health and fitness needs of the 50 plus population, Big Ivy Physical Therapy and CrossFit Weaverville X-Caliber are launching the new LifeLong Strong program January 18th 2021.

LifeLong Strong is a comprehensive group functional fitness program that combines endurance, strength, balance and flexibility specifically for people aged 50 and over. Instructed by a physical therapist, participants will be supported to work around chronic injuries or health conditions.

The guidance of a qualified coach and the support of a group of peers can be instrumental in the success of an exercise program that enhances people’s health and quality of life. It is never too late to start.


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