How a Retirement Community Views Fitness...and Why It Matters!

I recently returned from a nice trip down South to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday. It didn't take me long to start enjoying the sunny and warm weather while golfing (I totally get the “snowbird” mentality now) and the mai-tais which cost only seven cents (yes, that is $0.07) more than a child’s glass of milk.

Even the clouds couldn't dampen our moods...but they didn't help my swing either

Even the clouds couldn't dampen our moods...but they didn't help my swing either

My mind couldn't help but wander and think about the community from a physical activity and fitness perspective. The design of the retirement community was excellent. The roads are built to encourage active modes of transportation with sidewalks and designated lanes for running, walking, and bicycle riding. There were people playing pickleball (yup, I needed an education on this as well), golfing, swimming, dancing, and playing shuffleboard and bag toss. People were landscaping and mowing their lawns, enjoying an early morning walk with their spouse or dog, and playing an afternoon tennis match.

I sat down one night and started thinking about this. I realized that at times it seems the fitness industry, and I include myself in this as a physical therapist, may be pushing too far toward the strength and cardiovascular training side of fitness spectrum for all clients. I completely understand the benefits of both forms of structured training, particularly for the aging or geriatric populations - but does it always need to be the primary method to get our clients and patients healthy?

Now don’t get me wrong - picking up a set of dumbbells or learning how to deadlift even at the age of 55+ is a smart idea to reduce the risk of injury, improve strength and bone health and must be a component of everyone’s program at some point. Proper movement patterns to reduce the risk of injury are always needed. But in some cases, particularly with general population clients, general fitness in the form of enjoyable daily tasks might be the appropriate first step. Because isn't the goal just to get people moving again whether it is to lose weight, or reduce back, knee, or hip pain?

My point is this: for some individuals, let’s not try to complicate the term fitness. I am just as guilty as anyone. My mind has been re-centered after this trip.  In my opinion, “fitness” and what it means in a retirement community is how the majority of the general population needs to view fitness first and foremost: as a fun and entertaining part of the day where we CHOOSE an activity that we enjoy so that we are compliant and consistent on our road to healthy living. And if that happens to include lifting a barbell along the way, even better!