Trainer promotes fitness for older adults


Flanked by AAAI-ISMA President Nora Anderson (left) and the four “East Coast Trainer of the Year” finalists, Betsy Gustafson (second, from right) talks about the importance of training older adults. (Submitted)

Flanked by AAAI-ISMA President Nora Anderson (left) and the four “East Coast Trainer of the Year” finalists, Betsy Gustafson (second, from right) talks about the importance of training older adults. (Submitted)

DOVER — Exercise specialist and personal trainer Betsy Gustafson recently took her passion for meeting fitness needs of older adults on the road.

In June, she participated in the “East Coast Trainer of the Year” competition in Atlantic City. She did so as a member of American Aerobics Association International-International Sports Medicine Association. The organization has 180,000 fitness trainers members worldwide. It’s goal is to help fitness instructors teach safe and effective classes or training sessions.

Of this membership, Ms. Gustafson was one of four finalists for “East Coast Trainer of the Year.” The competition was held June 3-5 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

This year the four judges — exercise specialists — specifically wanted to know how each finalist has made a difference in someone’s life and how that was done. The judges interviewed each contestant one at a time privately for 15 minutes. On Saturday, the finalists stood before all of the conference participants and gave them a few minutes summary of what we had accomplished.

Ms. Gustafson was able to answer specifically to one judge’s question on what is not being addressed in the fitness industry.

She quickly responded, “The needs of older adults.

“Instead of teaching instructors how to make things harder all the time, we need to teach them how to make the exercise feasible for the average person to do.”

According to Ms. Gustafson, the federal census reported in 2013 that 14.1 percent of the population was 65 or older. That’s 44.7 million people. The census projects that by 2060 one in four, or 98.2 million, will be 65 or older.

The age group is rapidly growing, Ms. Gustafson said, and its needs should be addressed.

She gave the judges examples of what can be addressed and improved through appropriate exercise: range of motion (for arthritis, fibromyalgia), combating muscle atrophy (use it, don’t lose it), and cardiovascular health (keep heart and lungs healthy).

She also told the instructors that if they are interested in finding a “niche” that this is an age group that needs more competently trained instructors.

Ms. Gustafson teaches 28 classes a week at the YMCA, senior centers, for parks and recreational departments and assisted living facilities.

“In teaching five to six classes per day, I work with an average of 300 people per week, she said. “While I teach all ages, I specialize in the needs of seniors and appreciate them.”

Ms. Gustafson said she specializes in exercise for those older than 50. Many of her students are in their 70s and 80s, and her oldest yoga student was 99.

While Ms. Gustafson didn’t win, the association president urged her to try again next year.

Ms. Gustafson has advice for older people.

“Enjoy life … keep moving!” she said.

“Walk around your neighborhood. Go to a park, lake or beach. Watch for the Kent County Parks and Recreation listing of fall fitness classes. There are new ones being offered.”

Editor’s Note: Gustafson is a certified group exercise instructor, certified personal trainer, yoga, pilates, tai chi instructor, and senior exercise specialist with over 30 years experience. She has 50 certifications for various disciplines. For fitness-related questions you may email her at

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