By Adam Goldstein for LONGMONT MAGAZINE

Gyms are still an option, for those who are comfortable with them. (Shutterstock)

Staying fit over the age of 55 isn’t about one single exercise or one specific machine.

Instead, maintaining health, strength and flexibility as an active senior is all about a balanced approach, one that focuses on wellness and engagement. It’s an effort that touches on all phases of one’s daily routine, one that has just as much to do with mindfulness as it does with strength training and movement.

“I really focus on form and alignment with my clients. That’s something they can take into the activities of their daily living – core strength, things that support their balance, anything that helps them get mobile,” said Jennine Amato of J9 Massage and Beyond. The Longmont-based fitness and massage service specifically works with seniors to encourage health, happiness and an active lifestyle. “My approach is all about keeping clients doing the things they love doing, no matter their age,” said Amato, who boasts more than 15 years of experience in the field. “You can decondition patterns that aren’t serving you anymore; even changing how someone walks can improve how they exercise and stay fit.”

Peggy Merrill, Senior Health and Wellness Director at YMCA of Northern Colorado sees a similar value in stressing the basics when it comes to keeping seniors active, healthy and happy.

“We’re working with our members to think beyond the treadmill or the elliptical and really think about all the different ways we can benefit our health,” Merrill said. “We have so many offerings for our seniors … In addition to cardio and strength options, we offer classes that get you aligned and restored. We can all feel really beat up right now – focusing on breath and relaxation and managing stress in very important.”

Specifically, Merrill and other experts point to the value of well-rounded fitness routines, regimens that stress an overall sense of wellness. For many seniors, that means finding classes and exercises that incorporate aspects like joint health and mental acuity. In other words, staying fit doesn’t have to mean high-impact routines that can do more damage than good. Amato stresses the importance of massage in addition to a fitness routine in keeping muscles in proper working order.

“There are a lot of things that happen to our tissues that we can’t address through stretching or exercise,” she said. “Seeing a knowledgeable massage therapist can expedite how your body functions in performance, whether that’s life activities or athletics.”

All of the YMCA of Northern Colorado locales offer these options, as well as Silver Sneaker, yoga and pilates courses that offer a balanced approach to building balance, strength and focus in a safe way. Merrill added that the Mapleton YMCA features a new warm-water pool, and offers an option for seniors specifically looking to spare joint pressure in coming up with an exercise routine.

“We’ll start with some water exercise classes and times for therapy in the water. One of the benefits is that it’s so kind to the joints,” she said. “The water warms them up, it loosens them up. People can exercise and not feel like they’re going to fall.”

Venturing outside of the boundaries of a gym, an indoor pool or a yoga studio can contribute to the perfectly balanced exercise routine. Performing simple outdoor exercises can carry its own benefits.

“Exercising outdoors helps our neuroplasticity,” Merrill said.

Massage is a beneficial addition to any workout plan. (Shutterstock)

A balanced fitness and wellness routine isn’t off the table for those already dealing with joint pain. Low-impact routines can make a difference, as can proper preparation for a new routine. Dr. Jason Markle, a Regenerative Orthopedic Doctor at the Centeno-Schultz Clinic in Broomfield, said that for seniors, finding an effective fitness routine can mean getting back into the habit gradually.

“With the current COVID pandemic, a lot of people have been sedentary for a long time. Getting back to an active lifestyle should be gradual,” Markle said. “Typically, for a lot of my patients, I tell them about increasing 10 to 20 percent a week. If you walk a mile, maybe next week walk 1.2 miles. It’s all about slowly increasing tolerance.”

Those suffering from joint pain also have a wide array of treatments and approaches, including the regenerative methods offered by Markle and the Centeno-Schultz Clinic. In Colorado, another option is CBD products available in local marijuana dispensaries.

Dispensaries offer a wide array of therapeutic products that directly address joint issues and other pain associated with regular exercise.

“Regarding localized joint pain, generally it is recommended to try a topical product rubbed directly on the affected regions on the body,” said Penny Comes, spokeswoman for Terrapin Care Station. Such topical solutions include medicinal patches, roll-ons and creams, she added, all will varying ratios of CBD and THC. “When looking for topicals, purchasing from a dispensary is ideal, even though we are seeing more CBD products in places like the grocery store, and even gas stations. Purchasing products from a dispensary ensures that the product has been tested so the consumer can be certain that the product contains cannabinoids to alleviate pain.”

Komes added that Terrapin also carries strains of flower product ideal for treating joint issues, and that all of the locales offer a 10 percent discount for seniors.

All of these measures can make wellness more accessible and approachable for seniors who want to remain active in an unprecedented time.

Indeed, the challenges of staying fit in the wake of a global pandemic can be daunting for those over the age of 55. Safety is an important consideration in planning an exercise routine, and finding the right balance between social distance and engagement can be tricky.

However, it can make a critical difference. In addition to the physical benefits of remaining active, finding a regular routine can be key in addressing one of the most serious dangers of the current environment: isolation.

In other words, keeping up contact with other people can hold the key to staying healthy in a stressful time, whether it’s on the trail, in the pool, on a massage table or via a video fitness class.

“These times won’t last forever. It’s about more than just surviving, it’s about thriving,” Amato said.