English: A senior citizen while practicing his...
English: A senior citizen while practicing his fitness exercise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within the outdoor fitness market, and the fitness industry in general, the age range of clients can be significant, ranging from 16 to 65+. As such, it is important that training providers and fitness professionals’ understand the issuing relating to older exercisers.

Length of military service is governed, to some extent, by age.  Most soldiers who serve a full career retire between 40-45 years old and officers at 55 years.  Within these age brackets, and particularly for those over the age of 50 years, physical capacity need only reduce minimally.

At these ages an individual who has kept in shape and is healthy should have no difficulty in passing mandatory physical fitness assessments/tests or taking part in unit physical training.  Therefore, age should not be considered a great factor when planning or implementing physical training.

It is individual ability that should be assessed against performance in role-related tasks, which determines the level of training required for that individual.  The rate at which we lose physical capacity as we age is very much determined by the level of habitual activity.

Although there is a natural decline in VO2max of 1-2% per year after the age of about 30 years of age for men and 25 years for women, this can be greatly reduced by maintaining fitness.  Fitness performance improvements can be gained by older individuals who take up or increase their physical activity at the same rate as that of a younger person.  As with all physical training, individual ability should be the main consideration although some age related factors should be addressed and include:

  • Heat tolerance: as we age the rate at which we sweat decreases.  This will affect the body’s cooling mechanism.  Older individuals conducting endurance type training in hot conditions should be closely monitored due to their increased risk of heat illness.
  • Strength: reduction in strength occurs as we age, but need only be minimal if appropriate training is carried out.
  • Speed: a loss of fast-twitch muscle fibres as we age affects the ability to produce speed.
  • Power: as both speed and strength reduce with age, power also declines.
  • Endurance: as discussed earlier, VO2max declines with age, but can be minimised with appropriate aerobic training.
  • Body Composition: in the general population, increases of fat and loss of lean tissue are associated with ageing.  However, these changes have been attributed to a lack of physical activity and although there will be a natural loss of some lean tissue, increases in fat need not occur.
  • Risk of Injuries: may increase, but is very much individualised.  The previous history of injuries, joint degeneration etc and current physical condition will all have significant influence on injury.  Physical and mental condition will also affect recovery rates from injury at all ages.

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