Convince Senior Clients to Take up Meditation
Meditation: The Key To Unlocking Improved Motor Function for Seniors
Have you ever worked with a client whose body seems to work against them?
No matter how many times you teach them a movement, no matter how often you practice—and you may even see both progression and regression—but ultimately it never seems to stick.
These clients might offer explanations like,
“I tell my body what to do, but it just doesn’t seem to want to do it right.”
“I promise, I’m trying, but my body just doesn’t move like yours anymore.”
Frustrating, isn’t it? For you and them, because you know they are trying.
What if in some of these cases, the failure has nothing to do with your training ability? Or your client’s effort and commitment levels?
Greater effort, focused muscle training, different breathing, extra concentration—none of this will help because it’s actually a problem with your client’s brain.
And you can help your clients overcome this frustrating reality by encouraging them to try something simple: meditation.
Motor Function Declines with Age
Before getting into the benefits of meditation for your senior clients, let’s establish an important fact:
Brain volume declines with age.
According to a study from 2011, age has a significant negative effect on brain volume, specifically in the cerebellum.4
We all know that we are fighting the clock, and that aging is inevitable, so it should not be surprising that getting older results in at least some brain volume loss.
Aging means different things for different people. For me, aging seems to be taking the biggest toll on my eyesight, while other people I know are struggling with joint pain from cartilage depletion or strength and function loss from muscle atrophy.
So, why should we be concerned with the changes in the cerebellum with other more pressing impacts of aging?
What’s fascinating about this targeted degradation in the cerebellum is how this part of the brain normally functions.
The cerebellum has many functions, but primarily it regulates the coordination and smooth execution of motor functions. In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey calls the cerebellum “the blues and rhythm center of the brain.”
According to his research as well as results from other studies, if an individual’s cerebellum shrinks in volume, their ability to learn new movements or even “walk in a straight line” will be significantly hindered.
I can’t tell you how many times an older client has told me,
“My body doesn’t move like it used to. My old—hips, knees, shoulders, muscles—just won’t allow it.”
They and many fitness professionals I’ve worked with believe their movement dysfunction (inability to squat, lunge, bend, twist, push, and pull) is a result of a lack of coordination, the range of motion, and strength in the body. They think that good coaching and at least two training sessions per week is the remedy.
More modern research suggests, however, that such weakness, discoordination, and lack of functional flexibility is caused by age-related degradation of the cerebellum.
This matters in our profession because no amount of weight lifting, balance training, or stretching and foam rolling has the power to improve the body’s potential beyond what the brain can process and remember.
So does this mean we should give up on our older clients? That they should give up and give into the aging process?
Of course not. All you have to do is give them homework.
And this homework, while super-important, will be the easiest you have ever given in your training career.
One simple thing an older client can do to significantly improve movement function, motor-memory, and therefore the effectiveness of your training sessions is to meditate.
Click image to view full infographic or download PDF here and print for your clients.
Meditation Increases Brain Volume and Density
As neurological research presses forward, we learn more and more about how we can manipulate the human brain. Researchers are learning that we can actually change our brains, and to some degree, turn back the clock.
Mindfulness and meditation are some of the best tools for doing it.
A study from 2011 showed that just eight weeks of mindfulness training significantly increased tissue density in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum of program participants.
Other studies (one in 2007 and two more in 2015)5,6,7 compared meditators with non-meditators among every age group from 18 to 90 and showed that brain volume was significantly higher in meditators regardless of age.
No matter your client’s age, science seems to be saying that eight weeks of purposeful meditation—there are many types worth exploring—will increase the volume of the cerebellum and that can, in turn, improve the ability to learn, execute, and remember quality movement patterns.
It follows that in older clients, regular meditation means smoother movement, better coordination, and improved strength, which as trainers we know will lead to fewer injuries and setbacks, improved metabolic activity, and ultimately, a better quality of life.
We have all had those clients who have trouble with what we believe are simple movements, but in most cases, it’s not because our program is lacking or the client’s effort is abysmal.
As trainers we can’t neglect the overwhelming role that the brain plays in motor function; and with a mounting body of evidence to support mindfulness training’s ability to counteract the effect of aging on the brain, we owe it to our older clients to encourage this healthy homework.
Cortez never found the fountain of youth, and despite some 21st-century claims about miracle supplements, I believe anti-aging pills can’t be found at GNC either.
However, by encouraging your clients to meditate regularly, you can be the trainer who helps them fight the clock as much as is possible.
Now, take a breath and become conscious of your intention to be a better trainer.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
Alexander Van Houten
- Terribilli, D., Schaufelberger, M. S., Duran, F. L. S., Zanetti, M. V., Curiati, P. K., Menezes, P. R., … Busatto, G. F. (2011). Age-related gray matter volume changes in the brain during non-elderly adulthood. Neurobiology of Aging, 32(2-6), 354–368. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2009.02.008
- Fine EJ, Ionita CC, Lohr L (2002). "The history of the development of the cerebellar examination". Semin. Neurol. 22 (4): 375–84. doi:10.1055/s-2002-36759.
- Ratey, John. MD. Spark. The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Jan 2008. Print.
- Holzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., et al. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 191, 36–43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
- Luders, E., Cherbuin, N., & Kurth, F. (2015). Forever Young(er): Potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Frontiers in Psychology Front. Psychol., 5.
- Kurth, Florian; Cherbuin, Nicolas; Luders, Eileen (2015). "Reduced age-related degeneration of the hippocampal subiculum in long-term meditators". Psychiatry Research. 232 (3): 214–8
- Pagnoni, Giuseppe; Cekic, Milos (2007). "Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation". Neurobiology of Aging. 28 (10): 1623–7. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.06.008. PMID 17655980.
What are your training sessions doing to your client’s brain? Only good things research tells us. According to sports science, the brain gets a workout every time we challenge our bodies. You can actually train your client’s brain to learn better and improve the willpower when training the body.
Senior Fitness Certification
By the year 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will grow to over 63 million. This group now constitutes the fastest growing segment of our population. While this burgeoning segment of the personal training market constitutes a lucrative opportunity, the real value is in the joy you'll experience in changing people's lives.