Staying on track

Most seniors don’t play on teams anymore, but sometimes they could use a little coaching.

Older adults looking to make lifestyle changes and hopefully improve their health may need to revamp their diets and begin an exercise routine. Working with a personal trainer or dietitian can help them achieve those goals.

Counseling in making healthy food choices is available at Altoona Hospital where dietitians offer outpatient nutrition counseling.

Monica Richers-Kelly, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian/nutritionist at the hospital, said she and the other dietitians assist people who want to develop better eating habits if they have a referral from their doctor.

She said people in their 50s and 60s get a wake-up call when they develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or are diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

When she works with a person wanting to lose weight, she said she shows them how to control portions and how using smaller plates and cereal bowls can help.

Often the people she sees “are eating too much and not moving enough,” she said, “or they eat a lot of junk food.”

She emphasizes that their plate should include fruit and vegetables, especially vegetables.

She said good choices are broccoli, celery, lettuce and brussels sprouts as opposed to more starchy choices, such as peas and corn.

“They should eat a more Mediterranean-like diet,” Richers-Kelly said.

But making the changes are not always easy. She said some people she works with have never thought about their diet and others know what to do, but don’t always do it.

“These are lifelong habits. They don’t happen overnight,” Richers-Kelly said.

That’s where the coaching comes in. She said people who come back for more guidance usually develop a healthier lifestyle.

Through her work, she also has been able to help people avoid common blunders. She said if someone chooses 2 percent milk over whole milk they are getting a teaspoon of butter per glass.

I tell them, “Go for skim and use that teaspoon of butter on something else.”

Even people who are faithfully trying to reduce their salt intake don’t always realize sodium is an ingredient in canned vegetables or they substitute garlic salt for salt.

“It is still a salt,” she said.

Richers-Kelly said she can work with a person for several months to a year. By that time, the lifestyle changes have had an opportunity to take effect.

Sometimes, exercising and losing weight brings about changes beyond a person’s expectations.

Richers-Kelly said some pre-diabetic patients have been able to stave off the disease and some being treated for high cholesterol and high blood pressure have been able to lower the dosage of their medication.

Rebecca Koons and Duane Ferrell, personal trainers at the The Summit Tennis and Athletic Club, said exercise can help seniors gain strength.

Ferrell said that as people age their bones become weaker, and weight training can strength them and possibly prevent osteoporosis.

He said that people should work with a trainer so they don’t overdo or hurt themselves.

In addition to muscle loss, Ferrell said flexibility is lost with age, and personal trainers can teach stretching exercises that improve it.

He said the Summit offers group and personal stretching exercise classes, but he believes the one-on-one lessons have more benefits.

He said the trainer can watch the person working out and make sure he or she is doing the exercise correctly.

Koons said that seniors may have undergone surgery for hip or knee replacements, and a trainer can work with them to determine what type of exercises would give them the most benefits.

She said the personal trainer evaluates the person he or she is working with from the start. They go over basic movements and determine what hurts and what does not. She said the workout is individualized for that person and the trainer can target problem areas such as the knees, shoulder or back.

Once a senior signs up for training, the number of sessions is up to the individual. Koons said the senior can work with a trainer for one or two sessions or as long as he or she wants.

And after six or eight weeks, the senior may want to check in with the trainer again and get the exercise routine changed.

“In as little as four weeks, the body can adopt to the routine,” she said. If a person does not make changes to the routine, he or she will maintain their level of fitness, but not improve, she said.

Koons said personal trainers are trained to help people, to guide them so they do movements correctly and improve their well-being.

“That’s our job. That’s what we are here for,” she said.