5 Exercise Mistakes Most Older Adults Make, According to Your SilverSneakers Instructor
SilverSneakers trainer Shannon Thigpen offers simple fixes to keep you moving smarter—and safer.
Making mistakes is human. So whether you’re a veteran exerciser or starting a fitness routine for the first time, it’s bound to happen at some point and have some effect on your workout.
At best, an error can frustrate you and slow your progress. At worst, a misfire may lead to pain and injury.
“The goal of exercise for an active older adult is to give yourself a better quality of life,” says Shannon Thigpen, who has been a SilverSneakers instructor for 17 years and currently teaches SilverSneakers LIVE classes. “If you’re injured or discouraged, you obviously won’t reach that goal.”
In most fitness classes, the instructor keeps an eye on their participants, correcting form and answering questions as needed. Still, there are some common exercise mistakes that happen outside of class, like when you’re on your own in the gym or at home.
Here, Thigpen outlines five common exercise mistakes—some that affect your state of mind, others your physical state—and what you can do to avoid them in the future.
Exercise Mistake #1: Your Mindset Is Getting in the Way
Your exercise mindset is key to success, Thigpen says. You can either overshoot or undershoot in that regard—both of which have negative outcomes.
“Some of us are overconfident about what we can accomplish by working out,” and we may end up disappointed when our lofty goals don’t materialize quickly, Thigpen says.
“You can also be underconfident, which may leave you feeling like it’s not worth it to even start an exercise program.” This type of thinking is harmful, particularly among older adults, she says. “You think, ‘This is just how it’s going to be for me, not being able to do things I enjoy.’ But that’s limited thinking.”
The fix: Be picky about whom you listen to when it comes to exercise. “For example, in SilverSneakers classes, there’s built-in support—people who want to be there,” Thigpen says. And you can feed off that energy.
Whether you’re taking a class or heading out for a walk, finding like-minded friends will go a long way toward reframing your outlook to the positive. Also, think about what you want to accomplish by exercising that goes beyond losing weight or having stronger muscles.
“You want to maintain independence, be able to play with your grandchildren, spend time with friends, help others in your community.” Focus on those goals, Thigpen says.
Exercise Mistake #2: You Take the Path of No Resistance (Training)
A lot of older adults underestimate the importance of resistance training, or strength training, Thigpen says. With age, your muscles and bones naturally get weaker. This type of exercise—whether you do it with just your bodyweight or equipment like dumbbells, bands, or gym machines—is key to keeping your muscles and bones strong.
“Some people fear resistance training because it seems complicated, and some people, particularly women, may worry that their muscles will get ‘too big,’” which is a myth, Thigpen says.
The fix: Talk to a trainer or physical therapist to learn proper form and a reasonable set of exercises for your needs, Thigpen suggests. “Good technique goes a long way, and you don’t need as much weight as you think to challenge yourself and see results.”
Aim to include at least two strength workouts per week. Master the basics with these bodyweight moves that work nearly every muscle in your body.
And if you’re a SilverSneakers member, try a SilverSneakers LIVE virtual class that incorporates resistance training, like SilverSneakers Classic Light (beginner), SilverSneakers Circuit Light (intermediate), or Bodyweight Boot Camp (intermediate to advanced). See the latest SilverSneakers LIVE schedule and RSVP for classes here.
Exercise Mistake #3: You Try the Latest Workout Trends Just Because
All the cool kids at the gym may be doing plyometric jumps or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), but is that the right move for you? If you already exercise regularly and have good overall fitness, it might be. But in some cases, it might be a recipe for a tweaked knee and a sore back.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge to leave your ego at the door and avoid comparing yourself to others, or even to your own 30-years-ago self,” Thigpen says.
The fix: While it may be tempting to try to follow the crowd and do what the person next to you is capable of, you’re better off listening carefully to your own body. Work within its current limits while celebrating its strengths. “You have to know the difference between motivation and not getting hurt,” Thigpen says.
Then as your fitness improves, you can continue to challenge yourself. And sooner or later, some of those limits may start to fall away. Keep your goal in mind, “which should be progress, not perfection,” Thigpen says. One way to do this: If beginner SilverSneakers LIVE classes begin to feel too easy, mix in some intermediate classes.
Mistake #4: You’re Ho-Hum on Hydration
“We all know that drinking water is important for health, but many of us still aren’t routinely well hydrated,” Thigpen says. Many older adults, she adds, may not drink water during exercise.
“Being dehydrated affects your energy levels, your brain, your digestion—even your eyes get dry,” she says. All that combined may make you feel less inclined to work out or keep working out once you start.
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You may not even realize when you’re low on H2O. If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already past needing a few sips.
The fix: Have a bottle of water with you while you’re exercising—and keep water around you at other times too. Stash a cup or insulated bottle of water at your bedside, and get in the habit of drinking when you first wake up, Thigpen suggests.
“If you really find yourself forgetting to drink throughout the day, set reminders on your phone,” she says.
Also, familiarize yourself with these sneaky signs of dehydration.
Mistake #5: You Forget About Flexibility
It’s normal to lose some flexibility in muscles and tendons as you age, which is why it’s so important to work on maintaining it through exercise. “The less flexible you are, the more prone you may be to injury,” Thigpen says.
Remaining flexible, along with improving strength, also helps you maintain balance and reduce your risk of falling.
The fix: “If you take SilverSneakers classes, you’re working on flexibility already,” Thigpen says. But no matter what form of exercise you do, incorporate stretching into your regular routine.
These seven simple stretches for older adults are a good place to start. Just remember to breathe deeply and go slowly as you stretch, and never force a movement that causes pain.
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SilverSneakers members can access live fitness classes and wellness workshops through SilverSneakers LIVE. See the latest schedule and RSVP for classes here.
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