Why Seniors Need to Get to the Gym

Part 2 (of 4)


Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP
Psychologist/Senior Fitness Specialist


Aerobic conditioning is important because it strengthens the heart (which is a muscle), improves lung capacity, oxygenates the brain, and increases vascular efficiency (opens your arteries and veins). Functionally, aerobic fitness enables seniors to develop the stamina to comfortably walk a mile or so at a decent pace, climb a flight or two or three of stairs, dance, and/or chase after the grandkids, all without fighting for breath or needing to stop and lie down. Moreover, aerobic training burns lots of calories which helps to keep our weight in check.

Three 20- to 30-minute aerobic experiences per week, in your “training zone,” are necessary to attain functional fitness. Of course, the more aerobic workouts you do per week (like four to six), the better.

Types of Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise can take many forms: brisk walking, jogging, hiking, biking, dancing, swimming laps, playing racquetball, or playing singles tennis (as there is too little movement in doubles tennis in most cases). In the gym (or home gym) one can walk or jog (at an incline) on the treadmill, ride the stationary bike (at a decent resistance level), or use one of the aerobic machines—cross-country skier, stair-stepper, or rowing machine, for example. To prevent boredom and to make your body adapt to different exercises, you should rotate among the options and not continually do the same exercise. As noted in Part 1, the gym also has (usually free) aerobic classes, like Zumba, other forms of dance, cross-fit (which would be challenging for seniors just getting to the gym), and spinning (stationary biking in a group). Taking such a class (or two) per week would be an excellent, fun adjunct to your aerobic workout program.

Stretch First

Before you begin your aerobic experience 5-10 minutes of light stretching of the back and legs—thighs, hamstrings, and calves—is necessary to avoid any muscle pulls. Once you start your aerobicizing go slowly at first to warm up before you reach your training zone. I believe that scheduling an aerobic experience before every weight training workout is an excellent idea because you will be completely warmed up at that time you begin your weight lifting.

Training Zone

Your “training zone,” often called your “target zone,” is essentially 50-75% of your maximum heart rate. (Unless you are extremely fit, you never want to exercise at or certainly above your maximum heart rate.) According to research, the training zone pulse rate, per minute, is where you are doing the most good for your heart and lungs. You can measure your pulse rate at your wrist with your fingers (not your thumb, which has its own pulse) or at on the left side of your neck, interior of the mandible an inch or so below the left ear. Take a pulse rate count for 10 seconds and then multiply that number by 6. (Thus a count of 20, times 6, equals a pulse rate of 120 beats per minute.) Many of the aerobic machines today have the capacity to measure your pulse rate. Some people prefer devices, like Fitbit or the Apple Watch, which will measure your pulse rate for you.

According to the American Heart Association, the training/target zone for individuals age 55-59 is 83-140; for people 60-64 years old the zone range is 80-136; for age 65-69 the zone is 78-132; and for seniors 70 and older the zone range is 75-128. If you are beginning an exercise program, you will want to work at the lower end of the training/target zone. As you become more fit you can work at the higher end of the zone for your age.

Author's Bio: 

Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who practiced in Phoenix for nearly 45 years. He worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provided forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning. He speaks professionally on marriage, parenting, private practice development, psychotherapy, and wellness to laypersons, educators, corporations, attorneys, chiropractors, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department of Ottawa University. He also is a certified senior fitness specialist. He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom? A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline;” “Coping with Your Adolescent;” “How Come I Love Him but Can’t Live with Him? Making Your Marriage Work Better;” “The Graduate Course You Never Had: How to Develop, Manage, and Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care;” “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune? Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals;” and “Overcoming Your Negotiaphobia: Negotiating Your Way Through Life.” His contact information is: 602-418-8161; email--LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; website--TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.