The adjective geriatric means pertaining or having to do with elderly persons. The importance of geriatric fitness, then, is the importance of maintaining fitness through all stages of life. The term applies to both mental and physical fitness.
The value of both physical fitness and mental fitness in older populations has been recognized as having a several major positive outcomes. Maintaining geriatric fitness helps to both preserve functionality and prevent disease and injury, as well as reduce frailty and increase quality of life. The concept of “successful aging” — as distinguished from either usual or pathological aging — puts a name to the goal of geriatric fitness. At one time this was more of a challenge than it is today.
Two important factors have made it easier to maintain geriatric fitness. The first includes efforts such as the International Curriculum Guidelines for Preparing Activity Instructors of Older Adults, created by a coalition of organizations in collaboration with the Aging and Life Course of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the development of American National Standards for Preparing Senior Fitness Instructors. These and similar efforts combined with licensure and certification programs have helped improve the quality of geriatric fitness offerings. Offerings have, as a consequence, become safer and more effective because instructors understand the complexities of working with seniors and both developing and adapting exercises and activities to the general and individual needs of this population.
The second is the wider range of opportunities for geriatric fitness that have become available. Activity classes targeting physical and mental well-being are available at a wide range of organizations including community organizations, such as community centers and churches; fitness-focused locations, such as health clubs, fitness clubs, gyms, YMCAs, JCCs, community wellness programs, and park and recreation departments; organizations with a focus on seniors, such as senior centers and retirement communities; and health facilities, such as long-term care centers, nursing homes, and adult day care centers. In addition, certifications have been designed for personal trainers with a senior clientele, so those who cannot or do not wish to or cannot join or participate in a geriatric fitness program at a public place may be able to have a qualified expert come to them.
With research revealing that brain fitness reduces the risk of dementia, the importance of geriatric mental fitness becomes particularly clear. While board games and puzzles are widely recommended, simply engaging in focused mental activity is not the only approach. The American Senior Fitness Association, for example, provides training in a program that focuses on an integration of mental fitness into a physical fitness program.