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International Council on Active Aging
United States

About Me:

Colin Milner, ICAA BloggerColin Milner, founder and chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA), is one of the North America’s foremost visionaries on the health and well-being of the older adult. His passion to change the way society perceives aging is only rivaled by his desire to help inform and educate health and wellness professionals that work with adults age 50 and above. Milner is an award winning writer, public speaker, industry leaders and advisory to many leading health organizations.

Recent Posts by ICAA

PAG for Older Adults

by ICAA April 10, 2013

It’s time for a change.

You may remember when being older was associated with frailty and rocking chairs, not new careers and adventure travel. A lot has changed over the past 20 years. Older adults today are looking at services and products to help them live a longer, healthier life. For example, the pharmacist Express Scripts recently revealed that older adults now spend more on products to combat the effects of aging—including mental alertness, sexual dysfunction, menopause, aging skin and hair loss—than they do on drugs to treat chronic disease.

This increased focus on healthy aging is the catalyst for a multitude of new products and services aimed at helping age 50+ adults achieve a better quality of life. Yet, the most effective tool we have does not come in a pill bottle, requires a small investment of time and effort, and is accessible to almost anyone. I am speaking about physical activity.

Research shows that regardless of age, education, and socioeconomic or marital status, you can achieve a significantly higher quality of life if you increase your physical activity levels. Our challenge? Only 21% of men and women ages 25–64 years old meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This percentage declines with age to 14.2% of people ages 65–74 years and 7.7% of those 75 years and older.

So, how do we get adults in their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and older to achieve at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week? Not to mention the Guidelines’ call for moderate- or high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

Maybe the first step is to “up the ante.”

Discussing seminal studies conducted with frail older adults at Tufts University in the
1990s, exercise science pioneer Dr. Steven Blair
 stated: “[These studies] show that you take older adults into the weight room and you push them. They don’t die; they double and triple their muscle strength and throw away their walkers.” He added, “If exercise was going to kill people, it would have killed that group.”

So, to reach the Guidelines and achieve significant health improvement benefits, we must challenge older adults to exercise more intensely to become stronger and walk longer. Doing anything less is a disservice to them—and to you. The message we need to absorb is that older people are not automatically fragile.

“It’s a myth that older adults are fragile and cannot exercise,” according to Dr. Blair. “Yes, there are frail individuals. Certainly, as you go up the age spectrum, you have more health issues and potential adverse events, but they are still pretty rare. A facility needs to be aware and have an emergency plan in place.”

If we are ever going to help older adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, we need to look at what we’re doing and change the way we help people get there. 

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Barriers | Older adults

Enjoying Competition in the Great Outdoors

by ICAA March 25, 2013

At the fine age of 80, after his wife's death, Fauja Singh moved from India to the UK to live with his son. Being in a strange country and speaking a foreign language, Singh found himself isolated until he rediscovered an old passion - running. Twenty one years later, he is the marathon world record holder for adults 90 years of age and older, clocking in at 5 hours and 40 minutes.

Singh's rapid rise in the marathon world started 17 years ago, when at age 80 he completed the 26.2-mile race in six hours and fifty minutes. What made this achievement so special was the fact that he knocked 58 minutes off the previous world best in the 90+ age bracket. Since that time he has competed in more marathons and holds many world records. Singh's achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 2004, Adidas signed him to appear in a major advertising campaign that also featured soccer great David Beckham. The campaign's tagline, "Impossible is Nothing," reflects not only Singh's achievements, but also those of older athletes from around the world.

In the U.S. alone there are over 250,000 older athletes. These athletes desire to compete, no matter what their age, and have created national and state-level Senior Games and Senior Olympics.

What can you do to tap into the rising numbers of older athletes who want to compete outdoors without getting injured? Whether it's the training for the Senior Games or for a weekend competition (librarian by day, world record holder by night), helping the 50+ adults achieve their dreams is a valuable business.


The following are eight tips to share with your staff and clients as initial approaches to building "Life Champions":

  1. Don't underestimate your clients' desires. When an older client wants to train for a competitive sport, or a competition such as the marathon or triathlon, don't discard their commitment or capabilities. Fauja Singh is only one example of what happens when desire is set in motion.
  2. Understand the aging body. Many of the perceptions of what the human body is capable of in old age are not only incorrect but debilitating to a generation who's true potential may be snuffed out by ageist points of view. Today, gerontologists have found that many of the issues we attribute to aging are more a function of disuse. When your clients choose to challenge their bodies and minds, they are capable of pushing past what was once thought unachievable.
  3. Set goals.When setting goals for your client, identify the challenges they will face along the way. Your job is to create a realistc picture of what they will have to do, and not do, to achieve those goals.
  4. Make short-term advances. Be sure to monitor your client's progress on a regular basis to ensure that they are making the desired improvements in their performance. This is not only a way to motivate older athletes, but is an important process in ensuring that their body is able to handle the trainings. For example, an older body takes more time to heal after a competition, so you may need to encourage your client to compete less frequently, but to go for it when they do. Competing less may improve their actual performances.
  5. Create a foundation. Before starting your clients on a sports-specific training regime, be sure to build a solid foundation by having them participate in a regular fitness program that includes cardio, strength, balance, range of motion and flexibility training. Once they have the foundation in place you will be able to build upon it, bit by bit.
  6. Get rest. Since an older athlete may require more rest to recover from their training, be sure to structure the program to take this into consideration. Also recognize that people over the age of 50 are more likely to experience aches and pains. These conditions may not have a considerable impact on their program. However, some may suffer debilitating pain; for these indvidiuals, you will need to adjust their training. Some may find relief by doing flexibility exercises throughout their program, or less strenuous sessions in the pool. You can also try making the warm-ups and cool-downs longer and more gradual.
  7. Water counts. Aging reduces the body's mechanism to alert us about thirst and dehydration, placing older clients at risk. This can have an impact on the older person's ability to compete or process their medication. Remind your older clients to hyrdate before, during and after training.
  8. Enjoy the experience. For many older adults, whether participating in team sports or an ultra-marathon, the most rewarding part of the journey into competition is the experience they gain and the challenges that they overcome during the process. Make sure to recognize and reward these along the way.

Future champions

By helping your customer to enjoy their competitive spirit outdoors, you are helping to create an environment that says, "It's never too late to pursue your dreams...and we will help you."

What are you doing to inspire older adults to enjoy the competitive side of physical activity and sports in the great outdoors?

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Active Advice | Older adults

The Family Plan

by ICAA December 6, 2012

You have probably heard the saying, "A family that plays together, stays together." If this saying is true, our goal must be to provide the environments and programs that support this intergenerational bonding activity. The question is, How do we, as providers of health and wellness services, achieve this goal? Two words: active aging.

The active-aging approach enables you and your organization - as well as governments, product and service providers, employers and the health care industry - to create and implement strategies that provide fitness and wellness offerings over the life span. To help guide this process, the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) offers a roadmap with its "Nine Principles of Active Aging."

Nine Principles of Active Aging

As you develop and deliver programs and environments for the family, remember to take the following into consideration:

1. Populations: Who is your consumer? The US population is extremely diverse - from ability and age, to income and culture, to sexual orientation. How will you meet the needs and interests of the different individuals you serve? And consider how these challenges may be heightened in centers that serve multiple population segments.

2. Perceptions: Ageism, racism, and negative stereotypes are stalling the opportunity for inclusion. Moving forward means leaving old ways of thinking behind. What family programs can you offer that are inclusive and give people opportunities to discover misperceptions they may have about others?

3. People: What personnel will you need? If you offer a fitness program for grandparents and grandkids, what staff and staff knowledge will be required to run the program? With fewer people working in the field of aging, where will the workers come from if the program should need to accommodate special needs, such as those of frailer individuals or those living with disabilities?

4. Potential: With the population aging, age 50-plus consumers will dominate purchasing decisions for decades to come, creating untold business opportunities for those who attract them. What are these opportunities, and how can businesses tap them? One opportunity is to offer programs that grandparents will support. Engaging these consumers in family activity is good for the whole family - and for your bottom line.

5. Products: What products and services will you need to meet the needs and interests of multiple generations? From technology to fitness equipment, to outdoor playgrounds and fitness trails, are the products and services you use accessible and inclusive for all? Or will your choices limit the family experience?

6. Promotions: Effective promotions are important ways to inspire connections between generations. Yet marketers often earn a failing grade with the older population by being youth-oriented in their promotions. Did you know, for example, that 95% of all marketing dollars are spent on attracting people 35 years of age and younger? To be effective, promotions must be rooted in the realities of today's diverse population, including young and old, fit and non-fit, and individuals from a variety of cultures.

7. Places: Environments can encourage or discourage families in leading active, engaged lives. What environments - both indoors and outdoors - will you use to support active aging across the generations? Also, how will you create an environment that feels welcoming to all? It may make all the difference to people continuing to participate in your programs.

8. Policies: How do policy decisions affect active aging? Consider how important policies are in areas such as age discrimination, where policies can help avoid the unfair exclusion of young or old, and encourage intergenerational relationships. Are your policies inclusive, or do you need to revisit them?

9. Programs: As promoted by ICAA, the seven dimensions of wellness - physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, vocational and environmental wellness - are the backbone of active aging. They are also key to meeting the challenges of providing the wide variety of programs and environments that fulfill the needs and interests of a diverse population. What programs can you offer in each dimension of wellness that will support your family plan? One example is a program where adults mentor children through lifelong learning... Why? Research from the MacArthur Foundation Network on Aging in Society shows that children who fail to graduate high school live 10 years less than their counterparts who graduate. No matter which programs you decide to create - and there are many possibilities - focus on getting the family involved.

What is your family plan? Only you can answer this question. But the Nine Principles can help guide you in establishing your plan of action - from recognizing the populations you serve to choosing the place, products, and programs you offer to those who participate.

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