Physical exercise is a powerful tool for maintaining health and wellness, but it can be a complex and challenging process for clients with chronic health conditions. Fitness professionals must carefully consider how to adapt exercise programs to accommodate individual client needs and the unique demands of various chronic diseases. The good news is that fitness professionals can help clients safely and effectively achieve their fitness goals with a few modifications and adaptations. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most important adaptations and changes that fitness professionals should consider to better support this demographic.

  1. Assess the individual needs and limitations of each client

No two people are the same, and no two conditions present the same. This means you need to get to know your client and how you can help them. Depending on your qualification background, you may find they have conditions outside your scope of practice and need to be referred to another fitness professional.

The first critical step is to understand each individual’s specific needs and limitations. This may include assessing their mobility, strength, balance, posture, and overall health status. It is also important to consider any medications they may be taking and how they may affect their exercise ability.

  1. Start Slowly and Gradually Increase the Intensity

Clients with chronic health conditions may have limited physical abilities, so it’s essential to start slowly and gradually increasing the exercise program’s intensity over time. This approach will help to prevent injury and avoid exacerbating the client’s condition. Gradual progressions allow clients to build up their fitness levels safely and effectively. For example, suppose a client is starting a new exercise program. In that case, they may begin with low-intensity activities such as walking or light resistance training and then gradually increase the exercise’s duration, frequency, and intensity.

This concept applies to the individual sessions too. A slow and extended warm-up will also allow for a progressive demand to be placed on the various body systems, safely preparing both the mind and body for the session ahead.

  1. Consider the Specific Needs of the Condition

Different chronic health conditions require various adaptations and modifications to exercise programs. It’s crucial to understand the specific needs of the client’s condition and adapt the exercise program accordingly. For example, clients with arthritis may benefit from low-impact activities that reduce joint stress but build up muscle strength and endurance. In contrast, clients with diabetes may need to achieve moderate intensity to benefit from improved insulin sensitivity. Yet, they may need to carefully monitor their blood sugar levels during exercise. It is best practice to develop your understanding of the wide range of chronic health conditions with an Exercise Referral/Long Term Health Conditions qualification.

  1. Focus on Flexibility and Range of Motion

Many chronic health conditions can limit a client’s range of motion and flexibility, so it’s important to include exercises focusing on these areas. Gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises can help to improve mobility, reduce stiffness, and pain, and improve overall posture and physical function.

  1. Monitor Vital Signs

Some chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, require closer monitoring of vital signs during exercise. Fitness professionals should be aware of the specific needs of the client’s condition and monitor their heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels as appropriate. This will help ensure the exercise program is safe and effective for the client.

  1. Incorporate Resistance Training

Resistance training can effectively improve muscle strength and overall physical function in clients with chronic health conditions. However, appropriate resistance levels and good technique are essential to avoid injury. Resistance training can be performed using various equipment, including body weight exercises, resistance bands, and free weights. Always consider how to integrate the most functional forms of resistance training for the client and their lifestyle.

  1. Use Adapted Equipment

Adapted equipment can effectively help clients with chronic health conditions perform exercises safely and effectively. For example, clients with mobility issues may benefit from using a stability ball or chair to support them during exercise, while clients with arthritis may benefit from using larger, softer hand weights to reduce joint stress.

  1. Provide Emotional Support

Living with a chronic health condition can be challenging, and many clients may struggle with feelings of frustration, anxiety, or depression. Fitness professionals should provide emotional support and encouragement to help clients stay motivated and engaged with their exercise program. Encouraging a supportive community, finding, and celebrating wins and progress, and showing empathy and understanding can go a long way in making clients feel heard, cared for, and supported.

  1. Communicate clearly

Communicating clearly and effectively with older adults with chronic conditions is important. It is common for this demographic to have hearing, sight, or other sensory impairments. This means providing clear instructions and demonstrating exercises properly, likely more than once. Consider how you communicate verbally and non-verbally and whether any additional resources or methods would help improve the experience for the client as well and keep them safe.

In conclusion, working with clients who have chronic health conditions requires a thoughtful, individualised approach that takes into account the specific needs of the client’s condition. They may also benefit from education on how exercise can support their condition. Remember, you are training the person, not the condition, so approach them with a holistic, person-centred attitude.