Getting fit after 50? Here's how can you achieve your fitness goals

Dubai - As Dubai Fitness Challenge kickstarts today, we look at how senior citizens can benefit from exercise regimens curated as per their needs

By Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Thu 28 Oct 2021, 3:45 PM

With the Dubai Fitness Challenge underway, the city is buzzing with everything related to fitness. Even as residents prepare for the entire city to be turned into one big fitness playground, one of the often-overlooked fields is fitness among older adults. With a fast-growing geriatric population, this topic deserves to be discussed urgently.

In the fitness world, older adults are generally defined as anyone older than 50. Several studies have repeatedly proven that regular exercise dramatically improves the quality of life for older adults. In its recommendations, America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention mentions that physical activity is especially important for older adults, as they spend much of their time being sedentary. “Exercise routines, especially resistance training, have several curative and preventive aspects,” says Dr Rahul Unnikrishnan, specialist geriatrician at Rashid Hospital. “It can help cognition, memory, mood, cardiovascular health, improved diabetic control, lower blood pressure and better bone health. Regular exercise also ensures better limb strength, especially for the lower body and greatly reduces chances of a fall, which often opens a Pandora’s box of unwelcome clinical situations. Many older adults who have had falls face a bleak future that includes being bed-ridden, developing bed sores, pneumonia, etc., which could lead to an untimely death.” He adds that it isn’t enough to do cardio exercises that increase the heart rate. “Elderly patients need to do a variety of exercises, including single-legged exercises, to improve balance, resistance training for strengthening the bones and exercises that improve agility, reaction time and proprioception. If they exercise regularly, within a few weeks the older adults will be able to see the benefits.”

A sports and musculoskeletal physiotherapist at Bedaya clinic in Dubai, Anil Daniel Prasad says people don’t believe him when he says exercise boosts creativity. “Regular exercise can help older adults with a variety of issues, including obesity, a lack of motivation and even conditions like arthritis and Parkinson’s.”

“I have seen a marked improvement in their mood and energy when training older adults,” agrees Nikola Predojevic, a freelance trainer in Dubai. Having trained over 50 older adult clients, he said it is often extremely rewarding to work with people of this age group. “Many of them start from zero. They have never been inside a gym and have a variety of issues. However, once they start seeing results, they are most committed and motivated clients. I feel like they are even more driven than the younger clientele. When they start, they are struggling with daily activities. However, within weeks, they are not only able to live pain-free but also enjoy a lot of activities that they had given up due to the pain. It is extremely fulfilling when that happens.”


Pain is a major spoilsport when it comes to the physical activity of older adults. “Pain is very serious matter for older adults,” says Anil Prasad. “However, most people, when they have pain, they immediately think that it is a structural damage. That something is broken inside them. But that is not the case. Sometimes, it is just the body’s way of reacting to a stressful situation. Rather than medicating the pain, it is important to talk to the patient and find the origins of the pain. It is important to address the issue, treat it and then move forward. A lot of patients come to me with injuries after doing a lot of cardio exercises. What many people don’t realise is that before doing the cardio exercises, it is important for them to build the muscles in the body to support that cardio exercise. Sometimes a simple exercise to improve muscle strength can work wonders.”

This theory is supported by the case of Abdulla Adambalam, a 63-year-old IT executive who lives in Dubai. “I used to walk 5-10 kilometers every day,” he says. “A couple of months ago, I started to have knee pain. Like almost everyone else, I attributed it to my age and ignored it. However, it got worse until I could barely walk without a limp. I was preparing to see a doctor when my daughter dragged me to a physiotherapist. During the first session, the physiotherapist said that my gluteal muscles were not strong enough. This was causing the muscles in my calves and from behind my thighs (hamstrings) to load up, which was, in turn, putting pressure on my knees. She gave me a set of exercises to do at home over one week.”

Abdulla was initially sceptical and wondered if a couple of simple exercises could really help with the pain. “Within a week, I could see a marked improvement. I would say there was a 20 per cent reduction in my pain straightaway. This was incredibly encouraging for me. I continued the treatment for six weeks and at the end of it, I was fully pain-free. With no medication, no invasive techniques, and just simple exercises at home, I was able to recover from an injury that threatened to impact my life. Now I am back to walking long distances every day. I continue to do the exercises my physiotherapist recommended, and I also work out in the gym with weights once or twice a week to strengthen my muscles. I wish more people knew about such kind of treatment for pain.”


Anil Prasad reiterates that this kind of awareness and education need to be pushed. “A lot of people don’t understand how exercise can help change the body,” he says. “It would be extremely beneficial if doctors, physiotherapists and fitness trainers could work together to holistically help a patient improve their strength.”

However, Dr Rahul claims that the biggest hindrance he has faced during his work with geriatric patients is the myth they hold on to steadfastly. “Resistance training alone has been proven to improve bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis,” he says. “However, the patients are not ready to take up resistance training or any kind of training for that matter. They feel like the three rounds that they walk around Zabeel Park or whatever exercise they do regularly is more than enough to keep them healthy. That’s not true, though. Aerobic activity helps improve cardiovascular health initially. That is true. But over a period of time, the positive impact plateaus. After this, sticking to the same routine is almost futile. A person has to keep on challenging their body to be able to maintain good health.”


It is important to motivate older adults, according to Anil Prasad. “Often, some patients go to a gym and feel intimidated by the machines and the level of fitness they see around them,” he says. “It is up to the trainer to start small and work consistently towards building up the client’s strength.”

Nikola wholeheartedly agrees and cites the example of a client who came to him after knee surgery. “When she first came to me, she was on crutches,” he says. “She had lost almost all muscles and couldn’t even bend her knee. I did rehab and muscle strengthening exercises and we were able to achieve 100 per cent mobility on her knees. She was able to do movements like squats and lunges without even a knee sleeve.”

Nikola also adds that he has found it most beneficial to do compound movements that mimic real-life situations with older adults. “When you demonstrate something like a deadlift, they feel it is too difficult,” he says. “But when you say, imagine you are picking up a box or your grandchild from the floor, you immediately see a shift in their perspective. Suddenly, it seems more doable.”

The one thing that Anil Prasad always tells his patients is to never underestimate their bodies. “The human body is designed to heal, adapt, and repair. You are never too old or too frail to do any exercise. Just trust your body and go for it.”

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