Welcome back to this special series featuring the stories of the Senior Planet Sponsored Athletes as they pursue their fitness goals in 2021. You can find all of our Sponsored Athletes’ stories here.
Hollis Wagenstein-Hurturk, age 69, is a senior athlete and a strong advocate for adaptive functional fitness training, having used it to square off against the challenges of aging and disability. By sharing a variety of accessible fitness routines and resources, Hollis hopes that everyone, no matter their level of ability, can discover new ways to increase their healthspan and lifespan. Get to know Hollis here, and read on for a more recent update on her wellness journey:
“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.” -Calvin Coolidge
Widowed at age 48 with three kids in public school. Started a career at age 50 that sustained her for the next 25 years. Retired at 75 to a “second act” as a volunteer in the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program. (At age 88, she was tops in her IRS recertification class.) Through it all, my mother (below, right) stayed in the suburban ranch house my parents had purchased in 1954.
One winter, we were slammed with an epic blizzard. The next morning, my octogenarian mom grabbed her shovel and cleared all the pathways. That night, it snowed again. The following morning, same thing. On the third night, angry winds blew a ton of snow back onto her northern exposure. By the fourth day, I hesitated to phone, fearing I’d become an orphan.
“Hollis, I can’t talk to you now. I don’t want to be late for gym class!”
My mother proved that you can be enviably fit into old age, even if the only exercise equipment you own is an old shovel. Of course, like many who came of age during the first Great Depression, she was happy to use the basic equipment in the high school gyms that hosted senior programming four days a week. It certainly kept her costs low, and her spirits high.
What’s YOUR Excuse?
You really didn’t feel like exercising this morning, right? Join the club! Maybe you weren’t up for an hour-long HIIT marathon, but could be persuaded to crank out a couple of seated crunches or spend 15 minutes stretching?
“The ‘right stuff’ can prevent injury and accelerate progress. And it sweeps away some of the obstacles to getting started.”
Many people struggle with exercise because they take an “all or nothing” approach. They gulp and commit to an ambitious New Year’s resolution that would clobber any out-of-shape newbie. Or they pick a sport that is a mismatch for their body type, physical potential, budget, schedule, and temperament.
A lot of people make excuses for why they can’t start exercising at all. They want to lose a little weight first. They don’t have the proper clothing or equipment. Gyms are too expensive. If your only exercise has been wrestling with your conscience, it’s time to retrain your brain!
In a trio of planned blog posts — Tools, Techniques, and Trainers — I’m tackling tools first. Having some decent equipment may provide motivation, (or at least shame us into putting it to use.) It deflects our shopping urges away from, say, bulk orders of Cheetos or Hummel figurines. The “right stuff” can prevent injury and accelerate progress. And it sweeps away some of the obstacles to getting started.
One small caveat: The point of this post is not to recommend specific products or vendors. It’s to help exercise enthusiasts set themselves up for success with the right tools. Once you decide what you need, a little legwork online can lead you to the best price or the best value. Your physician or physical therapist may also provide recommendations that are customized to your specific situation, and that trumps everything else. The links I share in this post are just a starting point, or a sampler of what’s available. Think of it as a restaurant review. You just had a great meal, but you know there may be other great restaurants out there that you haven’t discovered yet…
Today is the Day! Yes, THAT Day!
There are times when waiting pays off. Exercise is not one of them. The perfect time to start exercising is NOW. Even if conditions aren’t perfect, or you feel uninspired. You can talk yourself INTO exercise the same way you used to talk yourself OUT of it.
“Not every senior is going to achieve a level of fitness that enables them to sprint up Mount Everest wielding a 100-pound backpack.”
My four fellow Sponsored Athletes this year are people of impressive athletic achievement. And there are other seniors around the globe setting the bar ever higher. Centenarian Edith Murway-Traina just smashed the Guinness World Record as the world’s oldest power lifter. You can’t make this stuff up.
Not every senior is going to achieve a level of fitness that enables them to sprint up Mount Everest wielding a 100-pound backpack. Nor should they have to, or want to. Everyone can benefit from functional fitness exercise from every starting point. And you don’t have to commit to a class or a gym membership to weave exercise into your daily routine. You can take a quick break at work, during the commercials on TV, waiting on line at the DMV, or anyplace else.
Dress for Exer-cess
You don’t need special clothing or equipment either. You can arm yourself with a pair of hand weights and an exercise tube with handles, available online for less than $50 total. You can even improvise with two soup cans and an old bath towel!
A good pair of walking shoes or sneakers is a worthwhile investment. Unless you are a jogger, you don’t need luxury kicks. I like Skechers, because they double down for low impact sports, travel, and daily life. (Like Dolly Parton, I wouldn’t jog, even if I could. I’d blacken both my eyes.)
“…there’s no need to channel the Tour de France or Rocky in the ring.”
I wear normal street clothes for exercise. No tattered sweats, pul-leeze. I’m partial to the Uniqlo Airism line of undergarments because they wick moisture and help regulate body temperature when things get heated. The Chico’s Travelers and Zenergy lines offer flexible, washable, packable street clothes that can go from gym to lunch to work and onwards. I get dressed for the day, and exercise is part of that day. None of the things I do are as sweaty, percussive, and extreme as in my youth, so there’s no need to channel the Tour de France or Rocky in the ring.
My Home Gym
You don’t have to join a gym or hire a trainer to have a great exercise program at home. It does help to have some equipment to up your training game. Welcome to my personal stash!
In the classes I take through Senior Planet, SilverSneakers, and other programs, I try to match the equipment modeled by the instructors. Many vendors sell classic exercise gear and provide helpful, free user guides. You can also find tips online on setting up a home gym to fit your needs.
Weights, Bands, and Bikes
When the pandemic was at its first peak, free weights were sold out everywhere, and there was a conga line of backorders. Luckily, I was able to snag a pair of 5-pounders from Gopher Fitness, which mainly supplies school districts and universities. Later on, I acquired 4.5 modular (adjustable) hand weights from Vivitory through Amazon. And I found a set of 2.5 pounders from Everlast gathering dust in a drawer. I added 1 lb. and 2 lb. wrist/ankle bangles. I can now create any weight load from one to twelve pounds with different combinations. (If one chooses to go even more hardcore, kettlebells are an option to consider.)
Resistance bands and exercise tubes with handles rock! You can use them to work your arms, legs, back, abs and core. They roll up and pack well in hand luggage, so you can take a complete workout on the road. Tribe Fitness publishes a free resistance band workout guide on its website.
“Many seniors can no longer walk as much as they want, but they can still take part in cardio and bone-strengthening weight-bearing activities.”
Most senior exercise classes recommend or even require a sturdy chair to assist with balance in standing exercises and to ensure correct form in seated exercises. Many people can make do with a folding chair or a high-backed dining room chair.
Walking is an essential component of longevity and health programs. Many seniors can no longer walk as much as they want, but they can still take part in cardio and bone-strengthening weight-bearing activities. A recumbent bike, or even a compact, under-desk elliptical, may provide suitable workarounds.
Special Equipment for Special Goals
Balance is a critical functional skill for all seniors. The leading factor that causes older adults to lose their independence is injury from a fall, often caused by loss of balance. On September 22, first full day of Autumn, we also celebrated Fall Prevention Day. Team Senior Planet posted some great resources in the chat box during morning stretch, and it’s worth re-posting them to make sure this important issue gets as much coverage as possible.
Because balance is a special problem for me, I ordered a set of dip station body weight equalizer exercise bars (right) on sale, for under 50 bucks. I use them to take balance out of the equation in Zoom exercise classes, so I can focus on posture, form, and power rather than trying to keep from toppling over.
I also bought an active balance ball chair from that I use in virtual private training. You can use balance chairs to improve your home office ergonomics and counteract some of the physical stresses of our sedentary lifestyles.
There are other more advanced tools available for working on balance. Bosu Balls, CoreBoards, RBX Wobble and 60UP are some options. IMHO if you have balance issues you should only use these with a trainer or skilled spotter. Seriously.
Posture & Gait
Time and toil have taken their toll. I’m a 5’6″ person now squashed into a 5’4″ chassis. Height loss, osteoporosis, and scoliosis are common problems that plague adult seniors. I found a lot of relief wearing posture vests, as recommended by a sports doctor at NYU Langone. I also work with trainers on gait issues, which interact with posture and balance. Gait is also a factor in preventing falls while walking.
The diagnosis had me gobsmacked. I had been a lifelong adult exerciser, and I never expected it. But combined with a course of Boniva and intensified weight-bearing exercise, my second DEXA scan improved by as much as 9%, shocking my doctors. One key element was the use of a 10 lb. weighted vest. There are many online support groups and resources for osteoporosis.
To be clear, I try not to focus on “being disabled”. Yes, it is visible. For starters, I use a cane or a Rollator. Yes, it makes its presence felt. But I take the same classes as my senior cohorts, and my problems are not that much different from theirs. Most of us will eventually wind up with physical challenges, whether though disability or age.
“We all have choices. I choose to think of myself as an athlete who happens to have a disability. I choose to define myself as an athlete.”
In the words of psychologist Seth J. Gillihan, PhD., “While it’s important to respect your limits, it’s even more important to see beyond them. Chronic illness might shrink your life in certain ways, but it can’t diminish it. No matter what you’re dealing with, there is a part of you that is untouched by any physical ailment.”
The Tokyo Paralympians have pushed back against “inspiration porn” — the tendency of admirers to gush over their fight against adversity rather than applaud their achievements as athletes: “We aren’t here to inspire. We’re here to win.” All the same, they acknowledge the limits of a positive attitude. “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs ever made it turn into a ramp.”
When I first had to confront the irrevocable impact of disability, I tearfully asked my mom, “How can I ever again think of myself as healthy?” Sensing that her answer would have lasting gravitas, she paused for a moment: “Hollis — you will find a new way of thinking about being healthy.” Light bulb! And I found new ways of thinking about being athletic and being fit.
We all have choices. I choose to think of myself as an athlete who happens to have a disability. I choose to define myself as an athlete. And I salute you, all my fellow senior athletes, each and every one.
Want to hear more from Hollis? Mark your calendar and join us on Zoom for her live presentation, “Putting the Fun in Functional Fitness”, on Wednesday, November 17 at 3pm EDT. Learn more here!
In need of a little motivation to get moving? Join our daily health and wellness programs, stay tuned to the latest news and articles from SeniorPlanet.org by signing up for The Orbit weekly newsletter, and follow us on social media (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) to get to know these awe-inspiring athletes. You might just find a new love for fitness along the way!