By John Polley 

One of the reasons I love working with older adults is the seismic shift that can happen in their mental, emotional and physical world with relatively little intervention. The more we understand movement, the more we know that, for humans, movement is equal to life. It’s the pump that enables hydration to reach the tissues of our body, that drives our lymphatic system to do its work, that stimulates blood and other nutrients to areas that need it and, for the most part, enables us to physically experience our world. Problems, restrictions and complete breakdown mean we’re not just physically limited, but our mind and emotions are too.

The photo above shows three of my super star clients who epitomise what healthy movement can do for us all as we age. All have lived over 60 years and one over 90. Yes, you read that right. Margarita (on the left) is 91 years young. I met her when she was recovering from a shoulder dislocation at 86 while playing tennis. In putting this article together, I wanted to ask her why she thinks she’s still able to do the following:

  • Play tennis twice a week
  • Do an exercise class with her much younger friends every week
  • Use my services regularly
  • Travel from Australia to Europe every year with her daughter and spend the whole time sightseeing
  • Remain mentally sharp, articulate and engaged in all areas of life

Margarita starts where you might expect when she says “there’s no secret – just exercise and a good diet”. In digging further, there were several themes worth reviewing to understand what older adults get beyond the physical benefits of activity. Let’s take a look at these...

Active as a Way of Life

First up, it’s all about being able to do what you want to do. Everyone has their list of things they want to do every week, every month and every year. As we age, things can start falling off the list – people stop walking the golf course and get a cart; no more playing squash; bus tours of cities replace walking tours and so on. During exercise, but more importantly, outside of exercise, Margarita keeps life active, staying on her feet much of the day. Sitting even gives her back stiffness. But there’s more. On the tennis court, she makes a conscious effort to always fetch the balls. She has made a mental commitment to the active option in whatever she is doing, intuitively knowing this to deliver benefits.


Living a full life and playing lots of different sports certainly impacts the way we age. Margarita’s life history is characterised by variety and she’s reaping the rewards now. The neuromyofascial system as well as the skeletal system, which are responsible for all things movement, responds incredibly well to vector variability, varying forces and varying speeds of force. Our tissues can be described as chaotic in their structure, so straight line forces, limited in variety and range, simply don’t create healthy adaptable tissues. Variety in the daily motions of life and in the exercise we indulge in has real value as we age (and before then too). I haven’t even touched on the mental agility benefits that result here too.

Stress Relief

This is huge. Exercise and activity can balance the stress in our lives in a number of ways. There’s a mental shift in focus where you become absorbed in the “now”, creating what many refer to as the ‘flow state’, a place where we are functioning beautifully with positivity in our physical, mental and emotional worlds. Doing exercise that we enjoy also creates hormonal changes with dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. Used intelligently, exercise can release pent up energy in the tissues, meaning those clenched jaws and fists can finally relax. Understanding a person’s movement style using the PTA Global mostyle tool will help enormously here. Margarita’s words about playing tennis demonstrates what exercise can do for a person: “when I play tennis, I become a different person”. It’s a holiday from the stress she feels occupies her life.

Feeling Capable

Many people feel that ageing leads to poor function.  A common phrase I hear all the time is “well, it’s old age, isn’t it”? I always question this – “is it?” Most of the time, people simply need new movement solutions, and often, more movement. Engaging in exercise and activity gives the older adults not only enhances physical confidence, which helps them in their everyday life, but also with mental calm and emotional wellbeing. Look at Margarita (below) doing full bodyweight hangs for 30 seconds or more, every day. She plays tennis at the net because all her friends in their 60s, 70s and 80s accept that Margarita has the best reflexes in the group. Can you imagine the self-confidence on all levels that such physical efficacy can bring? Feeling robust in body translates to confidence of mind.


Another common theme in my older adults is having more energy, not only during sessions of course, but more importantly, throughout the day. Margarita always breaks into a run during our movement sessions. She explains most of the time that “I don’t run, but I do here!” After some great movement that opens her body and calms her mind, the energy comes. Movement becomes the method to literally “plug into” our own energy. As I said above, this often doesn’t mean a flogging, but simply activating the body’s own potential. Older adults who move will want to move more.

Social Connection

This is a total no brainer and easily the most powerful point for the majority of older adults. Exercise and active pursuits bring people together. This is obviously incredibly good for mental and emotional health. In one study of elderly men, intrinsically motivating activities were “more likely to result in exercise continuation than activities that rely primarily on extrinsic motivation, such as the expectation of improved health and well-being” (Nielsen et al., 2014). Margarita confirms this when she tells me “it doesn’t matter how good your exercises are, I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t enjoy your company and feel connected to you”. Quite thought provoking isn’t it?

What does all this mean? Well, if we, as an industry, focus on providing the best possible physical experience and ignore the mental and emotional connection, we’re unlikely to:

a) Be successful at building older adult training programs in our businesses

b) Help the very people we want and need to help

So, like Margarita and her daughter (above - also an inspirational icon of health), we want to foster activity in older adults by spending some time focusing on exercise as a human experience rather than a physical manipulation. Programs, whether they are group or individual, need:

  1. Social connection – build relationships with you and others where there are groups

  2. Stress relief – determine their movement style and you’ll know whether drills or games are the way to go

  3. Promotion of self-efficacy – demonstrate their improvements in capability through regular reviews of their performance and anecdotal stories of how much more they can do than their peers

  4. Variety – for physical benefits and mental engagement / flow

If I were to add a fifth element to the list, it would be to use the PTA Global Kaizen-6 feedback tool to ensure you’re delivering on client expectations. Can you tick off the above? The Kaizen-6 will ensure you can by asking the right questions.

My final words are those of thanks. Thank you for reading this and for engaging with the older population whose lives are better with you in them. You’re truly making a difference, one person at a time.

John Polley John Polley (JP) is the founder of BE FREE movement lifestyle wellness in North Beach, where he specialises in helping people move as effectively as possible. His client base stretches from people with previously debilitating conditions like osteoarthritis, through to professional sports people. His methods are similarly wide ranging, from hands on bodywork following the principles of the myofascial lines, through to complex and challenging fitness training techniques, all designed individually for each client’s needs. His mantra is “train or treat the human being, not the human body”.