Training For Seniors
There are many wheelchair-friendly places in the world to travel to, but to explore the more remote places on the planet, a high level of fitness is often a must. Sadly, for adventurers like me, time is running out and I’m trying my best to prolong the party. It’s tough keeping fit when you’re in your 50s and I’m beginning to realise that after noticing that only my eyesight seemed to have deteriorated after 40. Not so not so noticeable, other parts are wearing out too. Before long, you realise that your muscles ache a bit more when you exert them and the soreness after training takes a longer time to fade away. What’s more, energy levels start to drop. You’ll feel tired more easily and lethargy often sets in at certain times of the day.
We all know that muscles atrophy when you don’t use them. Well, the bad news is, age also shrinks one’s muscles and as one ages, it takes a lot more effort to tell the muscles that you still need them. The process of muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, is unavoidable with advancing age. At 80, even someone who exercises regularly would have only 50% of his/her muscle mass as that at age 25. As lines appear on our foreheads, solid pecs start to droop and even buns of steel may start to sag. The skin over your butt may roll up and long distance bus rides become a painful experience. Ouch!
Yes, training for seniors can never be the same as training for youngsters. We need to train even more regularly albeit at a lower intensity. In our 20s, we didn’t have to watch our diet as long as we exercised regularly. As sarcopenia set in, metabolic rate declines and fat accumulates even without overeating. So apart from maintenance training and pre-trip training, a healthy diet with the right kind of fat, carbohydrates and protein is absolutely essential to get one ready for adventure trips. In between trips, maintenance is very important. A senior who is completely out of shape can’t hope to be safely mountain-ready even if he has months to prepare himself. Even I have to admit that fat is stubborn; especially when the problem lies with visceral fat which is found deep to abdominal muscle, around the internal organs.
Whichever media you turn to for news, you’re sure to encounter miracle fruits, foods, supplements and even drugs. While some of them do make a difference when it comes to promoting wellness, don’t expect miracles and definitely don’t be too anxious to part with your money. This page will only touch on training and I will reveal what I personally do to prepare myself for a Kinabalu climb. Do bear in mind that I don’t know how medically fit you are, so these tips may not be suitable for you. Do seek your doctor’s advice if you have not been exercising regularly.
I normally climb about 200 storeys a couple of times a week even when I’m not preparing for a trip. Stair-climbing (and taking the lift down) is a good form of low impact exercise. Each session takes me a little over an hour. While climbing the stairs, I listen to audio books or the BBC. You can listen to Justin Beiber if you wish. It gives a very good workout and is quite effective for maintenance. I also do some chin ups, dips and sit ups.
As a trip draws near, I would step up my training. Replacing the 200 storeys a couple of times a week, I would gradually add weights and do 400 storeys at least once a week. I would also run 6-10km on alternate days. About 3-4 days before the climb, I would spend an entire morning or afternoon doing 800 storeys ascent and descent with weights. This finale is going to be painful but there will be no more exertion till the trip itself. I know from experience that it works.
Although legs are used far more than arms in treks and climbs, it is also important to train arm strength. On top of chin ups and dips, I would also do push ups (till exhaustion) almost every day. You may try this for your next trip, but don’t get too discouraged if you can’t keep up with this regime. I’ve known people who only trained half as hard and still made it to the summit of Kinabalu. As a matter of fact, I hardly trained at all on my first climb in 1993. It actually depends more on your determination than fitness per se. Fitness only makes it more comfortable. Climbing a mountain is more about determination and endurance than anything else.
I’ll touch on nutrition on another page.