Marcus Santer: Helping Your 40-Plus Client Age Successfully (and Look Great)
My 40th birthday was a pivotal moment for me.
Like most good clichés, it’s true.
Standing there in my underpants, I finally accepted that I didn’t like how I looked. Staring in the mirror at my bulbous belly, pipe cleaner arms and spaghetti legs, I felt wretched.
Yeah, that’s me on the right.
I took that picture shortly after I made the promise many 40-something year olds make:
“I’m going to get into the best shape of my life. Now”
Heard that one before?
Now you probably think you know where this article is going. You’re expecting a montage worthy of a Rocky movie. But that’s not the truth of what happened.
What happened? Shortly after taking this picture I got hurt.
Why? Because I did what most 40-something year olds do when they decide to get into shape. I fired up the Internet and went searching for solutions. I was quickly drowned in a tsunami of conflicting information pimped by outfits with deep pockets.
In one day, I went from doing zero physical exercise to training like an Olympic athlete. And in no time at all I busted up my shoulder so badly that I still have to be careful with it today. But I’m a glutton for punishment, so once the physiotherapist had fixed me up enough to be able to get dressed again, I was back at it . . . a little older and a little wiser.
Long story short, I had to ‘kiss a lot of frogs’ before I found what works when it comes to being 40, getting into the best shape of your life and feeling great about the whole gig. And when I talk about kissing frogs, I mean falling for celebrity workouts, useless gizmos, over-hyped fads in the popular media and all the other dead ends out there.
See that picture on the right? That’s me aged 45. Now, it didn’t take me five years to get into the kind of shape I wanted . . . it took six months.
It took six months, after I finally found what worked.
The reason I’m sharing this picture with you is to show how,by sticking to the lessons I learned, I’ve been able to sustain the body shape I feel very happy about.
I believe that you can use what I learned to help your aging clients avoid kissing lots of frogs. If you show them how to get what they want, they will love you for it and they will remain your clients for a long time. They’ll become your biggest advocates.
Here’s what your client needs from you:
The biggest lesson was that nutrition and exercise, in that order of importance, were where I needed to focus my efforts. Now stay with me, because I know you know this, but I bet your new 40-something year old client doesn’t. In fact, I’ll wager there’s a lot you take for granted that would qualify as a ‘Eureka!’ moment for your clients. Start re-thinking the little things.
Don’t Overwhelm Me
Have you ever tried drinking from a fire hose? No, me neither, but I imagine it’s a very uncomfortable experience. So is being on the receiving end of a coach who drowns you in information. Educate me, but calibrate how much of your wisdom you’re pouring out on your aging clients to make sure you don’t swamp them. When people are in doubt, they usually end up doing nothing.
Help Me Stay Focused
One of the first things I ask a new client to do is to give me their undivided attention for at least three months. I ask them to unsubscribe from any email lists or social media pages dealing with the subject of successful aging (my area of expertise). Why? Well, have you ever heard the story of the dude who chases after two rabbits and goes home hungry? That’s why. You know there’s a lot of conflicting and just plain wrong information available out there, and it will make your life easier and your client more likely to succeed if you can keep them focused on what you’re sharing with them.
Give Me Quick Wins
We live in a society of instant gratification, instant meals, instant information and instant on-demand TV. Instant is everywhere you look. But as you know, the visual results of body re-composition can be slow. So help your client to stay inspired by giving them the quick wins they need to keep moving forward. Encouraging them to keep a food and training journal is an excellent way to do this.
Don’t Injure me
If you try to kill me, I won’t come back to you. I might even say I want hard-core training, but the truth is I don’t, especially if I’m starting out after a decade or more of inactivity.
Don’t Let Me Injure Myself
This might be impossible, but it’s important to try. For example, based on where Jane was starting from, I advised her to start by walking for 10 minutes a day and to add a minute or two extra each week. What did Jane do? You’re right. The very next day Jane went out for an hour-long walk. Her thinking was: If some is good, more is better. And you can also guess what happened. Right again, for the next few days she was in so much discomfort she finally decided this ‘exercise thing’ wasn’t for her.
Show Me You Care
I got this one from coach Taylor Lewis. He reminded me that as a coach, just being happy your client turns up and checks the box is a win. When you accept this, you’ll project a positive attitude that shows your client that you care and you’re here to help them. Taylor also reminded me there are no standards at 40 and that all clients are different. He says if you keep your clients smiling and let them have fun you will always win. He’s right, if I enjoy training with you, if you make it fun, I’ll keep coming back for more.
Hold Me Accountable
If there is one single area where I think coaching beats everything, it’s this. Will power is a finite resource and runs out faster than you might think. My life changed significantly when I made being held accountable a regular part of my life. I made sure to tell ‘that person’ when I set out to do something. You know the kind the person I’m talking about, the one who’ll take great pleasure in throwing things back in your face if you don’t come through. Fortunately, I’ve found coaching to be a far more nurturing and supporting way to be held accountable, instead of being made to feel worthless. (Hey, you might like that kind of thing, I’m not judging.) So make sure you celebrate your clients’ victories with them, but also give them a supportive kick in the pants if they don’t follow through on their side of the deal.
Tell Me the Truth
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but the day I finally accepted the US Navy Seals weren’t going to ask me to help them out any time soon, it forced me to realize I didn’t need to train like one. This perspective change made it easier for me to respect the value of the work I was doing.
Fill in My Gaps
I stole this one from Dan John. Make sure you spend time finding out what your aging client is already doing and help them to fill in the gaps. If they’re a hero in the gym but a zero in the kitchen, that’s a gap and you need to help them fill it. What about the fundamental human movements? Loaded Carries, Squat, Hinge, Pull, Push (in that order) what aren’t they doing? Fill in the gaps. Is your client friends with the floor? If they want to age well, they need to be. Make sure you’re regularly assessing your client and helping them to fill their gaps.
The Cherry on Top of the Cake
As a great trainer, I’m sure you’re already aware of what I’ve written and have found it a useful refresher. But if you really want to go the extra mile and help your aging clients to stack the odds of a stronger, healthier and more independent life in their favor, make sure you share the following information with them too (in order of importance):
Help Me Develop a Prevention-Based Mindset
There’s a popular saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I think that’s an underestimation. Not smoking, drinking in moderation, wearing your seatbelt and regular health checks are a vital part of successful aging.
Encourage Me to Make Sleep a Priority
Despite what your client may have heard, sleep isn’t for suckers. It’s essential for successful aging because it restores energy, allows vital hormones for growth and repair to be secreted into the blood stream and improves metabolism. And yet most people get an hour less sleep each night than their relatives did a century ago.
Make Sure I’m Cultivating Friendships
While everyone differs in the amount of social connection they need, if your client wants to age well, they need to be spending quality time with others. Psychologist Julianne Hold-Lundstad and her team at Brigham Young University identified 148 studies that tracked the social interactions and health of 308,849 people for an average of 7.5 years. Here’s what they found: “. . . the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.” The need for social connection isn’t woo-woo nonsense, so make sure you help your clients to realize it.
Teach Me How To Manage Stress Effectively
If your clients value sleep, have valuable friendships, eat like an adult and engage in regular exercise, they’re already pursuing activities proven to take the sting out of chronic stress. But if they still want more, here’s the simplest stress management tool I know:
The Five-Minute Reset:
- List five things you can see
- Close your eyes and list five things you can hear
- Now list five things you can feel
- Now count five long, slow breaths (In, out, one. In, out, two and so on)
This simple tool will bring you back to the here and now, the only place you have the power to act.
Tell Me the Truth About Supplements
When you research supplements in the Cochrane Library (Cochrane’s systematic reviews are internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care) you keep seeing the same conclusions: “There is no clear evidence that [supplement X] reduces the risk of [ailment Y]”. Now with that said there are certain groups who (at the time of writing) should consider using supplements 
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should take Vitamin D supplements.
- Women trying to get pregnant and women in the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy are recommended to take folic acid supplements.
- People over 65 could benefit from a Vitamin D supplement.
- Children aged six months to five years may benefit from a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D.
If your client isn’t in any of these groups they’re better off getting their vitamins, minerals and macronutrients from a healthy diet. Now, I appreciate this is a controversial subject, so let me share part of an email I got from one of my aging clients which sums up the experience of my clients nicely:
“There’s so much information out there, and I had gotten lost in the maze of nutritional supplements, thinking I needed to be on the right supplements first, before I would have the energy to live the REST of my life. For years now, I’ve gone to supplements first, before everything else. And once I turned sixty, I started to feel like I was going downhill and didn’t know what to do about it. One look at your pyramid, and I realized what I’d been doing! I had it completely upside down.”
[Note: The pyramid she refers to is my Healthy Aging Pyramid]
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. To get the most benefit from it, I suggest you choose one item that struck a chord with you and implement it the next time you work with an older client. I also suggest you bookmark this page so you have quick access to a resource you can use to help your 40-plus clients look great and age successfully.
About the Author
Marcus Santer is a healthy aging expert; he’s been helping folk to live longer, healthier and happier lives since 2003 and has traveled to many countries teaching Qigong. Since turning 40, he now works with clients to help them adopt evidenced-based habits proven to help them age successfully.
More coaching tips to successfully train clients of any age:
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