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Fitness at any age! A Q&A with a fitness coach for older adults

Kitchissippi Times: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? How did you get into health and fitness for older adults?

Kit Flynn: From my childhood days of ringette, ballet and field hockey to my late teens playing squash, tennis, and racquetball, I have always enjoyed being active. My interests moved to golf, small triathlons and walking half-marathons as an adult and lately, spinning, outdoor cycling and walking are my activities of choice due to osteoarthritis.

It was never my plan to go into the fitness business. I was a happy Toronto businesswoman in the 80s, destined for a suit-wearing computer career. When my husband’s work took us to Ottawa and we started a family, everything changed. I loved being a stay-at-home mom. My plan to stay home for six years, though, turned into seventeen, and I thought that returning to the computer industry after that long an absence wasn’t viable.

So I looked at my skill set and decided to certify as a personal trainer. Eleven years ago, I opened my business and soon after that established a workout studio in Westboro, specializing in adults fifty-plus. I chose that target market because I saw a growing need and ongoing opportunity. I coach, teach, and support aging individuals in a safe environment and doing that every day is a joy.

Kitchissippi’s Kit Flynn is a personal fitness trainer for adults over 50 and co-founder of the Association of Fitness Professionals of Ottawa. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

Kitchissippi’s Kit Flynn is a personal fitness trainer for adults over 50 and co-founder of the Association of Fitness Professionals of Ottawa. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

KT: Who are your clients?

KF: My clients have ranged between 47 and 94 years old. Both men and women arrive at my private exercise studio to be coached one-to-one for a minimum of two, one-hour sessions per week. Their reasons for wanting exercise coaching vary. Younger clients in their 40s and 50s have come to me post- breast cancer wishing to live a healthy lifestyle, as well as those training specifically for special walks such as the Camino. There are those in their 60s and 70s who want to be mobile and strong enough to play and lift grandchildren, carry heavy items and eliminate poor posture. In the 80s and 90s they may come to maintain a higher quality of life, continued independence and the ability to keep doing the activities they enjoy.

Whatever your age or whatever the reasons, it is never too late!

Often, one of our first conversations is about expectations, mainly with regards to weight loss. This is not a weight loss program. I help clients build muscle, increase heart health through cardiovascular exercise, improve balance and flexibility. And yes we do burn some calories and build muscle mass, but as I say, I can help build the mountain range, but melting the snow covered mountain tops is something they must do at home. I am always happy to help with ideas, though, if asked.

KT: I think most people would agree that fitness is important at any age, but why is it especially important for older adults?

KF: People in their 50s and beyond will be able to continue to do things that bring them joy if they have a strong body and healthy heart to support them. Nothing less than a longer, healthier life is at stake, regardless of the number on the scale.

Cardio exercises decrease the chance of heart disease. Strong muscles lead to a higher quality of life.

KT: It’s not just physical health that’s important though, it’s mental health too, isn’t it?

Deciding to spend your resources (money, time and energy) on exercise even pays dividends well beyond a longer and more able life. When people put their health on the front burner and prioritize themselves, they blossom. When they actually do what they said they wanted to do I witness inner self-trust building and it transforms them. Their spirit soars.

Having a fitness destination twice a week gets people up and out of their homes. The one-on-one session feeds our human social need, too. Many people in my studio have become experts at talking and exercising simultaneously. We have such fun!

Mental gymnastics are addressed, too. Memory work combined with movement has been proven to keep minds sharp. The benefit of having private sessions is getting exactly what you want and need in mind, body, and spirit!

KT: Take us through a typical new client scenario.

I invite new clients for a free twenty-minute consultation in my studio in the Island Park Drive and Scott Street area. We meet each other, they see the physical space and I hand them a client contract and profile to bring back on day one, should they wish to start. Pre-paid packages of 10 and 25 sessions are offered. My brand new people most often buy the 10 sessions package to start and usually go to 25 sessions. Most of my clients exercising in my studio have been with me longer than seven years, and a couple longer than ten years!

When a new person arrives, I take things slow. Slowly I’ll assess their level of ability, meet them where they are and we’ll begin to build confidence and muscles together. I enjoy getting to know different personalities and finding just the pace, intensity, and encouragement each person needs.

KT: What advice would you give to older adults who have never been very active?

KF: I am a strong believer in starting now, whether you are 45 or 85. With a trusted knowledgeable coach helping to lead safe activity, our aches and pains can decrease. Our happiness and enthusiasm for life can increase. We’ll feel far less lonely and can feel part of the community again.

I use urban poles to assist new walkers negotiate the roads. We often walk along Richmond Road and Wellington Street West. If you see me walking by, please say hi!

KT: Is there anything special in the Kitchissippi area you see as a particular benefit to people finding fitness?  

KF: Carlingwood Mall is a great place to walk, and walking is the number one best exercise. In between your normal pace walking, try to walk as fast as you would if you were late for a bus, every so often.

To help you adhere to your activity plan, it helps a lot to find a like-minded walking buddy whether you are walking along the parkway, the streets of Kitchissippi or through Hampton Park.

Dovercourt Recreation Centre offers lots of specialized water programs. Fitness stations are popping up in our area parks, too, which is wonderful!

KT: What, if anything, have you learned from your time with older adults? I sense that the time you spend with your clients can be a two-way street!

KF: All my clients are interesting, fun, life-affirming people but two octogenarians stand out. I met 87-year-old Calvin and 86-year-old Katherine Smith many years ago when they wanted to begin an exercise routine that would allow them to retain and maintain the strength to mow their lawn, nurture their garden and spend weekends at their cottage.

As a fitness professional, what I find most impressive about the Smiths is their prioritization of their workouts. I witness the invaluable results of their adherence to exercise in their day-to-day lives, and I learn from it. The Smith’s outings, doctor appointments and everyday errands are planned around their workouts. Almost nothing comes between them and their routine of exercise twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. They arrive in separate cars for their back-to-back hours because they need to get to other things. No waiting around for these two! Even on days they don’t feel energetic about exercise, they do it anyway and always feel better afterwards. What they may not know is that each week they gift me the invaluable reminder not to give in to our ailments, to keep doing what’s important, and to recognize that our body works in partnership with our mind and spirit.

Calvin and Katherine tell me about their breakfast dates at the Britannia Yacht Club, pub lunches, dining at Le Café, and mounting the 75 steps (yes, they counted) to take their seats for a symphony at the NAC. A dinner dance club, book club, stitch group and a regular food bank shift all somehow fit into the week as well, unless they are driving to an out-of-town investment club meeting or to Toronto to visit children, grandchildren and great grands.

The Smiths have shown me that the late eighties can be fun and active by never letting anyone else do for you what you can do for yourself, prioritizing your physical health and never, ever letting anyone call you old.

Kit Flynn is a Kitchissippi resident who runs a fitness business for adults over 50. She’s also co-founder of the Association of Fitness Professionals of Ottawa. For more information, go to KitFlynn.ca.

What are some easy, active things anybody can do at home to stay healthy?

  • Walk in place, down an apartment hallway, or outside. Get a little breathless.
  • Sit up and down on an armchair with your arms crossed across your chest. Vary chair heights.
  • Have a regular stretching routine every morning.
  • Maintain an upright posture.
  • Drink lots of water; alcohol in moderation.
  • Get some sleep! Make sure you’re getting 7 – 9 hours every night.
  • Practice daily gratitude awareness. Journaling is an excellent way to do this, even if it’s just a sentence or two every day.

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