About six months ago, I made a pretty major switch in my career path, from teaching ballet (which has been my job my whole adult life) to teaching group fitness.
More specifically, I began teaching water exercise classes for a group of people we call Active Older Adults or AOA’s–this category encompasses baby boomers and seniors.
To be completely honest, this wasn’t even the area of group fitness I initially saw myself working in (story of my life). In fact, the main reason I began with water class training was because of scheduling conflicts with the training to teach studio classes. Prior to looking into the training schedule, the idea of water exercise had never even really crossed my mind.
It has, however, been a valuable learning experience so far–and I do plan to continue. With that in mind, here are a few things I’ve picked up so far, from teaching this particular demographic. Some of these lessons have been explicitly given, as I’m the perfect age for my participants to give me advice, but some I’ve gained just by observing.
Start Young–And Constantly Maintain–Your Health And Fitness
This body is the only place we have to live during this life. Only some parts of it can be replaced, and that’s at great cost. I’ve heard from AOA’s that either
A) they’re thankful they’ve been able to stay very active or
B) they wish they had maintained their health more carefully over the past decades.
Personally, I want to be moving and living as much as possible until I’m done on this earth, so I’m taking to heart the idea that it’s SO important to build my physical foundation NOW. Obviously, bodies break down over time. That’s inevitable, and unavoidable medical complications don’t help matters. But I’m talking about preventative measures to retain as much physical health and freedom as possible.
Do What You Can
I have a few participants whose bodies have reached the point that they require assistance to get into the pool. Think about that one for a minute. Simply WALKING necessitates help.
Once in the water, they take part in the exercises as much as possible. But, often, there are limitations placed on them due to arthritis or other medical issues. But they show up. Consistently. And they do what they CAN.
They aren’t sitting on the side, complaining about how their bodies have betrayed them. They’re making the best of it, and giving the workout their best effort, whatever that looks like.
Enjoy Yourself–And the Company of Your Friends
Typically, in any given class, there are three types of participants:
A) those there to WORK and work hard
B) those I just talked about who are doing their best but fighting obstacles and
C) those who mostly came to socialize.
Now, some instructors are annoyed by this last group. I get that. It can sometimes be distracting. It definitely changes the dynamic of the class. But I believe there’s room to be flexible here. For some of our members, these classes ARE their social lives. Period. This is where they come to enjoy themselves and see their friends. That’s actually great!
Something about older people causes me to pause and check my priorities. It’s good, and important, to make the time to chat with a friend, to catch up and check in on how so-and-so’s husband’s surgery went. Those relationships MATTER, and are worth maintaining, right along with my health and fitness.
Sometimes I get into “gym mode” (complete with scary Resting Gym Face) and my tunnel vision gets so severe that I forget the value of slowing down and simply talking to someone, or listening, if they need an ear. Not only does that make me more self-centered, but it robs me of the opportunity to really engage in the community that’s right there.
Those of us who are at the gym most days of the week, consistently in the same classes with the same people have a great opportunity to support one another. Actual relationships can be built there. Along those same lines, actual ministry can be done there, too.
Life is Short, But Also Long
Some of the AOA’s I’ve talked to have really LIVED. It’s so inspiring to hear their experiences, and it challenges me to GO FOR IT.
From an eternal perspective, we’re not here on earth very long. Much too short a time to waste it. This makes me want to take some risks, follow the call, live boldly.
On the other hand…in earthly terms, life can be pretty long. It seems that it can feel longer still if, during the second half, your quality of life has deteriorated. Some older people seem to be sad, isolated, and completely disenchanted with living. I think that, more than anything, would make time drag on and on.
There is so much to be learned from observing and talking with the older generations.
They have the perspective that only time can truly give, but the rest of us can reap the benefit of their experience.
If we’re paying attention, we can put into practice NOW the principles they have learned from decades of living. It’s often said that teachers learn more from their students than the opposite, and that is certainly true in this case.
I get to lead them through an exercise class, but they have to potential to teach me things of much greater significance.
What have you learned from the older people in your life?