Physical activity for seniors is recommended as a means of maintaining good health and preventing age-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis (12). However, it’s important to choose an activity that is safe and effective, especially for those who may be new to exercise or have existing health concerns. Barre fitness classes have become increasingly popular in recent years, and many seniors are wondering if this type of exercise is right for them. As a hybrid workout combining elements of ballet, Pilates, and yoga, barre is a low-impact activity that can be modified to meet the needs of any fitness level. Here’s what you need to know about barre fitness classes and whether they are safe and effective for seniors.
What Is Barre?
This method, known as the Lotte Berk Method, eventually made its way to the United States in the 1970s and inspired the creation of barre fitness classes as they are known today.
Barre fitness classes typically last for 45 to 60 minutes. They have several distinctive characteristics and goals, based on their constituent parts:
- Ballet: The graceful, flowing movements of ballet help to improve posture and balance.
- Yoga: The focus on deep breathing and mindful movement in yoga can help to reduce stress levels and increase mind-body awareness.
- Pilates: Pilates exercises build core strength, improve muscular endurance, and promote proper posture and alignment.
The goal of barre fitness classes is to help participants achieve a long, lean, and toned physique without bulk. Classes often make use of props such as yoga mats, resistance bands, hand weights, and balls.
How Can Seniors Benefit From Barre?
There are many potential benefits of barre fitness classes for seniors, including:
Preservation Of Lean Muscle
Sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) is a natural process that begins around age 30 (15). After the age of 50, sarcopenia can accelerate, leading to a decline in strength, mobility, and balance. This can increase the risk of falls and fractures (19).
Barre fitness classes can help seniors to preserve lean muscle mass and reduce the effects of sarcopenia. The low-impact nature of barre means that it is an ideal form of exercise for those with joint pain or other mobility concerns (18).
Improved Bone Density
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone density and a high risk of fractures. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in four men over age 50 will develop osteoporosis in their lifetime (2).
Barre fitness classes can help to improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The weight-bearing nature of barre exercises helps to stimulate bone growth, while the focus on proper alignment and posture helps reduce the risk of falls and fractures (21).
Better Balance And Coordination
Barre fitness classes can help seniors to improve their balance and coordination. The slow, controlled movements of barre exercises help train the body’s proprioceptive system, which is responsible for balance and coordination (13).
Independence in activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, bathing, and grooming often depends on strength (1). As we age, our muscle mass and strength naturally decline.
Barre fitness classes can help seniors improve their strength and maintain their independence. The resistance-based exercises in barre help build muscle, while the focus on proper form and alignment helps prevent injuries (22).
Flexibility is the range of motion around a joint. It often declines with age, which can lead to stiffness, pain, and a loss of mobility (9). Maintaining good flexibility and range of motion is important for seniors as it can help to prevent falls and injuries.
Barre fitness classes can help seniors improve their flexibility. The stretching and lengthening exercises in barre help increase the range of motion and improve flexibility (10).
Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes (16). As we age, our metabolism slows and we tend to lose muscle mass, both of which can lead to weight gain (4).
Barre fitness classes can help seniors maintain a healthy weight. Both yoga and pilates are beneficial in weight management (24). Depending on the intensity level, barre can help burn calories and build lean muscle mass.
The focus on proper form and alignment can also help prevent injuries caused by excess weight.
Reduced Stress Levels
Chronic stress can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety (23). Seniors are especially susceptible to the effects of stress as they often deal with age-related changes such as retirement, declining health, and the loss of loved ones.
Barre fitness classes can help seniors reduce stress levels. The mind-body connection fostered by barre can help promote relaxation and a sense of well-being (7).
The low-impact nature of barre can also be helpful for those who are dealing with pain or other mobility concerns.
Improved Mental Sharpness
Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging, but it can be accelerated by conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to cognitive decline because it leads to a reduction in brain size and connections (25).
Barre fitness classes can help seniors improve their mental sharpness. The combination of aerobic activity, resistance training, and mind-body focus can help stimulate the brain and delay cognitive decline (5).
Increased Energy Levels
As we age, our energy levels often decline. This can be due to a variety of factors, including reduced muscle mass, declining hormone levels, and sleep problems (11).
Barre fitness classes can help seniors increase their energy levels. The aerobic and resistance-based exercises in barre can help build muscle and improve cardiovascular fitness, both of which can lead to increased energy levels (17).
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Criticisms Of Barre
Although barre fitness classes offer many benefits for seniors, there are some criticisms of the method.
Doesn’t Build Functional Strength
Functional strength is the type of strength that’s needed for everyday activities such as carrying groceries or getting in and out of a car (14). Because barre classes focus on small, isolated movements, some people argue that they don’t build functional strength.
The movements in a barre class are only used to tone the muscles, not to prepare them for functional tasks. Compound movements common in other types of exercise, such as squats and lunges, are more likely to build functional strength.
Low Energy Demands
Barre classes tend to have low energy demands, which means that they don’t burn a lot of calories. For seniors who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, barre might not be the best option.
Other types of exercise, such as walking or jogging, are more likely to help with weight loss because they have a higher energy demand.
Neglects Cardiovascular Fitness
A typical barre class raises participants’ heart rates to slightly above 40% of their maximum heart rate, which means that it’s not a very strenuous workout (20). For seniors who are trying to improve their cardiovascular fitness, barre might not be the best option.
Other types of exercise, such as walking or biking, are more likely to help with cardiovascular fitness because they have a higher energy demand.
Not Suitable For Seniors With Joint Problems
Barre classes involve a lot of standing and some movements that put pressure on the joints, such as pliés. The ballet-like posture that requires the chest to be lifted and the shoulders to be drawn down can also aggravate joint problems such as shoulder impingement.
The lower back can also be strained by some of the movements in a barre class. For seniors with joint problems, another type of exercise might be more suitable.
Other types of exercise, such as swimming or water aerobics, are less likely to aggravate joint problems because they involve low-impact movements (6).
Only For Women
Barre fitness classes are often marketed as being for women only. However, there’s no reason why men can’t take barre classes and benefit from them.
Many men do take barre classes and find them to be helpful for their fitness goals.
What To Expect In A Barre Class
If you’re thinking about taking a barre class, it’s important to know what to expect. Barre classes typically last for 45 minutes to an hour. They usually begin with a warm-up that includes gentle stretching and movements to get the body ready for exercise.
The main part of the class is focused on a series of small, isometric movements that target the muscles in the arms, legs, and core. The class ends with a cool-down and some gentle stretches.
Barre classes can be challenging, but they’re also meant to be fun. The music in a barre class is often upbeat and motivating. The atmosphere in a barre studio is usually supportive and friendly.
What To Wear To A Barre Class
There’s no dress code for barre, but it’s important to wear comfortable clothing that you can move freely in. Leggings or yoga pants and a tank top or t-shirt are typically worn.
You want snug-fitting, but not tight, clothing so that the instructor can see your form and alignment. You’ll also want to wear socks that have a grip on the bottom. This will help you avoid slipping during the class.
Shoes are not typically worn in a barre class, but if you have joint problems, you may want to wear sneakers with low heels for support.
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Barre Class Etiquette
There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re taking a barre class.
First, arrive on time so that you can get settled and be ready to start when the class begins.
Second, stay mentally focused throughout the class. This means putting away your phone and not chatting with other students.
Third, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard. If a movement feels too challenging or causes pain, modify it or skip it altogether. Work with the instructor before class to come up with a modification that will work for you.
Finally, have fun and enjoy the class!
The Bottom Line
Despite the criticisms, barre fitness classes offer many benefits for seniors. The low-impact, mind-body nature of barre can be helpful for those dealing with pain or other mobility concerns.
And, the combination of aerobic activity, resistance training, and mind-body focus can help stimulate the brain and delay cognitive decline. If you’re a senior who’s looking for a new fitness challenge, consider giving barre a try.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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