Ian Spiby spent most of his career teaching at university level and having taken early retirement, invested as an active partner and shareholder in Wellbeing Fitness. We specialise in training people “from 40 to 65+”. Twelve years later at the age of 75 he has gained a considerable body of knowledge about training the older body.
When I started working at Wellbeing Fitness (NOT as a trainer I wish to stress) I had done virtually no exercise since I was at school. Moreover I had never done sport and I didn’t even like watching it. But under the encouraging influence of my senior partner in the business (half my age and confusingly also called Ian!) I began the journey. The policy of Wellbeing Fitness is to make exercise fun and enjoyable – there are no body-builders, no protein shakes, no beasting and we don’t ask people what their “goals” are. And rather to my astonishment I rather enjoyed the sessions, done in private, alone with a trainer in a studio. Which leads me to…
POINT 1. We have found that older people actually like having a trainer to themselves, in private at an appointed hour. They avoid feeling intimidated by younger, fitter people training in the same room that they think (wrongly) are looking down on them and sniggering. Which leads me to:
POINT 2. When the trainer becomes someone we know and trust, they become like a friend. And what’s more, there is a secret that I impart to all our staff: older people don’t get old in their heads. In my head, I am the same age as my boss, the other Ian. And because he doesn’t treat me as “an old person”, he gets the very best out of me, just as our trainers get the very best out of our older clients.
When I joined Wellbeing Fitness, I soon became acquainted with the information that can be read in every health and exercise manual: that from the age of 30, we get physically weaker the more the years go by -until in old age we become “frail” (and useless). The received wisdom is that this decline is inevitable and that the older you get the more things you are unable to do. And the frightening thing is, that society in general encourages this view. When I started training at the age of 62, people thought I was mad. I was warned that there would be dire consequences; one friend told me that my Achilles tendon would be the first to go. Another just laughed in my face at the very idea. I was an old man. “Take things easy”. “Slow down”. “You’ve worked hard all your life. You deserve a rest”. “Get someone in to do the garden – you can afford it”.
It was at that point that I decided to put it to the test and I would use my academic training in research to help me. I would challenge this notion that you automatically get weaker and more frail as the years go by.
So far I have proved that notion to be false. After 12 years I am stronger and fitter and healthier than I have ever been. But to get there I have
found that the exercises you have to do are different from those you do in your 20s and 30s. And how old are the majority of personal trainers? Yes: in their 20s and 30s. On their courses they practised exercises that suited them, with people of their own age. And these are the exercises they use for older people.
Next time, I will be telling you the sort of things that are not only appropriate for the older body but absolutely vital if you are to remain healthy, active and fit.