When you're the oldest person at the gym, here's what you need to know

It's never too late to take care of your body and mind.

Here’s how to build confidence and get on track to become your healthiest self. Whether you’re a seasoned fitness enthusiast or stepping into the gym for the first time, these tips will help get you in the door and make your gym sessions as enjoyable as possible. 

By Maddie Southall

An active body is essential for a healthy life, no matter your age. However, the gym can feel intimidating, especially if you’re a little out of practice. 

Sure, you don’t have to go to a gym to exercise - you can workout at home, take walks, special classes or just get some good old fashioned outdoor exercise, but some of the social and physical aspects of joining a gym can go a long way

There are plenty of benefits to becoming part of a gym community, like:

  • Extra motivation to turn up to see friends.
  • Professional equipment and access to qualified trainers and staff who can help you level up your workouts safely.
  • Meeting people who have similar health goals or interests.
  • Easily achieving variety in your workouts, it’s the perfect space to try new exercises, machines or classes.

Now that you’re hopefully sold on the benefits, here’s how to make the gym work for you. 

The best place to start

If you’ve never stepped foot inside a gym or if you’re joining a new gym, requesting a tour or introductory training session with a qualified personal trainer is a great way to get familiar with the flow of things. A lot of gyms include 1 free session with a personal trainer when you sign up for a membership.

This is a great opportunity to tell the trainer about any goals you might have (like getting stronger, weight loss, starting weight training) and they will help you get set up with a plan to get you moving in the right direction.

For your first few sessions it’s vital to begin any exercise program slowly and then build up from there as your strength and confidence grow. This is important for anyone, but particularly for older people.

This applies whether on a bike, workout machine, or doing repetitions with hand-held weights. You may need to stay at a low level, be it speed, weight, or resistance setting, for several visits before ramping things up incrementally.

Progressing too quickly places your body at risk of injury and you may not simply be back where you started but could even regress. 

Sometimes it’s easy to feel like shorter, low intensity workouts aren’t worth doing but as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day is beneficial, so even if it doesn’t seem like much, the little things add up. 

Remember the rabbit and the tortoise – your body will thank you for taking it slowly.

But do you even need the gym? Isn’t walking enough?

Aerobic exercises such as walking and swimming are excellent, but as we age there is also great benefit in promoting healthy muscle mass by doing some strength or resistance training. 

Stronger muscles help maintain balance, avoid falls and offer a wealth of other benefits. Read 10 benefits of strength training.

Gyms provide weights and workout equipment designed to strengthen various muscle groups. 

Gyms also have equipment for aerobic workouts – treadmills, stationary bikes – and rowing or step machines that combine both aerobic activity with strength training. So, don’t think of the gym as being exclusively for strength training.

What to do if you get stuck

Gym equipment can be a little intimidating at first. How do you switch on the treadmill? How do you adjust the slope and speed of the platform? How do you set the weights or adjust the seat? You don’t have to know everything on day one. 

Ask the gym manager or a knowledgeable patron for instruction – they were first-timers once as well. Learn to use one or two machines first, practice with them, and then add another to your repertoire.

Many gyms will have instructors who can help you, but they are probably used to prescribing workouts for younger folks and may not be well-versed in the requirements of older people.

Don’t be reticent in explaining your needs and concerns. Make sure you tell them about any pain, weakness, joint issues and such – they’re not mind readers. Read this guide from the Heart Research Institute for choosing exercises right for your age.

Many gyms will have instructors who can set up a program for you, but make sure they are experienced in tailoring programs to you.

Other resources to read before you hit the gym:

Don’t hold back in explaining your needs and concerns. Make sure you tell your gym instructors about any pain, weakness, joint issues and such – they’re not mind readers.

How to listen to your body and avoid injury

You may embark upon a routine that you have been given but find that it’s too difficult. The old saying no pain no gain might rhyme well, but in reality, is absolute rubbish and will only make you give up and never return, or worse, cause injury.

It’s important to know the difference between a little bit of sweat and effort, and the pain that indicates that your body is being pushed too far. It’s your body and you are the expert! Check out these extra tips for avoiding injury.

Gradual progress is good progress

Starting out slowly and building up gradually may be ideal, but when you look around at younger bodies going hammer and tongs, you may feel a bit out of place and inadequate. Don’t!

The most important thing is that each gym user is doing what they need to do, at the pace and power that they need to do it. Have the wisdom to be patient at your level and with your gradual progress.

Keep your goals realistic and achievable

It’s important to have a routine that you are comfortable with and to repeat it regularly. It’s equally important to have some variety that creates interest and also works on different body areas.

All that matters is that you work slowly and steadily towards goals that are appropriate for you.

Stay hydrated and stay safe

It’s important to stay hydrated, and it’s also vital to be thoroughly aware of your surroundings. Gyms are full of protruding weights, levers, and springs that are easy to trip over.

Likewise, be slow and deliberate when getting on and off treadmills and other workout devices. Always make sure you have a firm grip on something sturdy and you can see where you’re putting your feet.

Nobody knows your body better than you, so if you ever have the slightest feeling of light-headedness, breathlessness, or abnormal fatigue, stop what you’re doing, sit down, and have some water.

If the slightest doubt exists in your mind, let another patron or instructor know that you don’t feel quite right. Be cautious, stay safe with these tips for older people exercising safely.

The gym is for fun and enjoyment

You’re not there to impress anyone – you just want to live your best life. Being at the gym should be beneficial and invigorating. Make your time there fun, and before you know it, some young first-timer will be asking you how to work the treadmill.

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