With all the research data on the health
and fitness benefits of regular physical activity, why do most American adults
remain sedentary? Primarily because it is difficult to change adult lifestyle
patterns. If this were not the case, the recent Surgeon General’s Report
on Physical Activity and Health would have called for more than 30 minutes
of movement, most days of the week as a fitness

The 1990s have produced a wealth of
information on the importance of strength training for older adults
(Biomarkers, Living Longer Stronger, Strong Women Stay Young, Lifefit,
Strength Training Past 50
), but we see very few fitness facilities with
a significant percentage of senior exercisers. What is the problem? It is
partly lack of education and partly lack of motivation, partly the challenge
of change and partly the fear of failure.

Fortunately, these are not insurmountable
barriers, as has been discovered over the past few years of adult emphasis
programming. During that time one has seen fitness center participants more
than double in number, and the median age move towards 50 years. What follows
is the basic approach taken for changing adult activity


We use a variety of media to present exercise
information to our surrounding communities, including television, radio and
lectures. However, the most effective method of communication has been the
newspaper. In our weekly Keeping Fit newspaper column we periodically
present the benefits and principles of sensible strength and endurance exercise,
which prompts hundreds of sedentary adults to attend our quarterly fitness
orientation sessions.

Each season of the year, just prior to
our new Keeping Fit session, we hold an orientation session for adults who
want to start a supervised exercise program. The evening event features a
slide presentation about our Keeping Fit program, followed by a question
and answer period. Our instructors then give the attendees a tour of the
exercise facilities and an opportunity to join the upcoming Keeping Fit


We have found the best exercise motivators
to be careful instruction and close supervision. To provide an attentive
training environment we hold our Keeping Fit classes in a separate
exercise room. We limit each class to six participants with two instructors,
for a favorable student-teacher ratio.

Another means for motivating our new
members are large attendance sheets posted in the exercise room. Self-recording
is an excellent way to encourage exercise compliance, and most of the
participants check-off their attendance as soon as they enter the training

Part of new member motivation is overcoming
the challenge of change. Realizing that almost all of the program participants
have been sedentary for many years, our instructors begin with a few basic
Nautilus machines and progress gradually as the clients gain training competence
and confidence. We have found that a concise explanation and precise
demonstration of each exercise is the key to making new clients feel comfortable
about strength training. That is, when you make strength exercise simple
to understand and perform, most beginners are willing to try it

Another pressing concern for the inactive
adult is the fear of failure. New exercisers do not want to appear awkward,
be regarded as weaklings, or fall short of the goals you suggest for them.
Consequently, our instructors are careful to begin new clients at the appropriate
training level, provide plenty of positive reinforcement, and give specific
feedback on personal progress.

Part of the exercise motivation are
fitness assessments performed before and after the eight-week training program.
However, experience has convinced us not to go overboard in this area. We
typically do just two physical assessments, body composition and blood pressure,
that are most meaningful to the participants. These assessments are usually
completed within 10 minutes which makes the evaluation process easy on the
participants. We generally do not formally test muscle strength and
cardiovascular endurance, as improvements in these parameters are obvious
to everyone week by week throughout the program.


We average over 400 new Keeping Fit
participants each year, with approximately 80% of these joining the YMCA
after completion of the program. As a result, a large percentage of our members
are previously sedentary, middle-aged adults who have permanently changed
their activity patterns. This has not happened spontaneously, but through
a planned program designed specifically for these formerly inactive individuals.

The key motivational components have
been the small classes, close supervision, and private exercise room, which
reduce the participants’ fear of failure and facilitate gradual change to
a physically active lifestyle. In addition to enhancing the health and fitness
of our adult community, the Keeping Fit program increases our YMCA
membership base and provides a solid foundation for our entire fitness

For more information on implementing
a similar Keeping Fit program in your facility (including articles
on training benefits, exercise guidelines, research results, facility management,
teaching techniques, and program flyers), please send your request and business
card to:

Rita Nordhuus

Nautilus International

709 Powerhouse Rd.

Independence, VA 24348

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness
research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. Dr. Westcott has
written the Muscular Strength And Endurance chapter for the ACE Personal
Trainer Manual and has authored several textbooks on strength

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