‘No reason to slow down.’ 81-year-old trainer shares top tip for staying active as you age

When Harry King, 81, was grappling with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis several decades ago, his doctor at the time told him to stop walking and taking the stairs. That doctor advised him to only swim or exercise in the water to reduce his swelling and soothe achy joints. But this limited exercise routine didn’t boost his overall health and wellbeing.

“I listened for a couple of years and started gaining weight and not improving in my physical fitness,” the personal trainer at Planet Fitness from Greenville, South Carolina, tells TODAY.com. “I quit listening to her and started walking.” Walking turned into hiking in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and he realized that he could hike for longer distances and attempt more difficult treks if he built muscle strength. He had switched to seeing a different rheumatologist at this point and he asked his new doctor if he could start attending the gym. She enthusiastically encouraged him.

“(She said) the best thing I could do is work out in the gym; use weight training,” King says.

He started attending a local Planet Fitness and began working with the personal trainers available to the members. He enjoyed weight-lifting so much that it inspired him to become a certified personal trainer so that he could help others. For the past year and a half, he has worked as a trainer, helping clients from age 24 to 76 use strength training to bolster their health.

“That fitness journey is so important more so now than ever, especially with the aging population,” he says. 

The number one tip he has for elderly people who want to add exercise into their daily routine is to ask for help.

“I would advise them to work with a trainer to make sure that their technique is right, to be aware of the different exercises you can do to work with different muscle groups you want to work out, how to balance work between the muscle groups,” he says. “A lot of people come in and never have worked out and we’re available as trainers to help introduce them and show the proper technique so they can get more out of their workouts with less chance of injury.” 

As for King’s fitness routine, he enjoys weight training five days a week, focusing on a different muscle group each day. For example, one day he will focus on upper-body strength and another day he will do lower-body lifting. He also enjoys cardio exercise and never forgets to strengthen his core.

Weight lifting and exercise has helped King accomplish daily tasks with ease.

“I have to cut the grass; I cut about two acres during the summer,” he says. “Being in shape certainly helps me in doing those kinds of things — just daily activity.”

He notes that he didn’t even realize household tasks felt easier at first.

“You may not notice this,” King says. “You’re stronger and more flexible in everything and your daily activities are easier.”

He has hiked across the state, as well as taken kayaking trips across South Carolina. But he notes that people do not have to do anything as “extreme” to incorporate fitness into their lives.

“We can just do stuff … like walking in the mall,” he says. “We can make our life experience that much better … There’s no reason for an older population to have to slow down a little bit. There’s no reason we can’t be active.”

Check out the full story