Many of the physiological changes we once thought were an inevitable part of aging are now known to be the result of de-conditioning rather than age. There are certainly some age related changes that occur to our bodies, such as hormonal changes in middle age that can affect muscle mass and body composition. But strength training programs for seniors can help to maintain muscle mass, bone density, cardiovascular function, and balance with age appropriate modifications. It’s easier to maintain strength than it is to try to get it back once you’ve lost it, so start a strength training program early to improve your chance of maintaining independence and function as you get older.
Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training has many benefits, including:
- improved muscle strength
- improved muscle endurance
- improved joint stabilization
- increased metabolism
- increased mitochondrial density
- improved bone density
- improved balance
- increased capillary density
- improved cardiovascular function
Strength Training for Seniors
So what should a strength training program for seniors look like? That depends on where you’re starting from, which is determined by getting an objective fitness assessment rather than chronological age. Many older adults are relatively active and healthy, but have orthopedic issues to consider. Most elder adults are on multiple medications that can affect balance, cognitive function, heart rate response, and blood pressure. Several of my older clients have chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiopulmonary disease, and/or progressive neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
In general, stalling the aging process begins with a strong and stable core. A strong trunk allows for stable posture, efficient energy transfer during gait or lifting tasks, and reduced risk of falls. Specific exercises depend on the health and ability of the individual, but the goal is to progress to functional integrated activities that mimic activities of daily living. Many older adults live very active lifestyles and may still participate in recreational sports, so those goals are taken into consideration as well. Whether you’re a “grand master” athlete, just want to travel or play with your grandkids, or confined to a wheel chair, strength training exercises can help you maintain or even improve function!
Strength Training Equipment
Seniors can use the same types of strength training equipment as anyone else! Free weights, selectorized machines at a fitness club, elastic bands or tubing, suspension trainers like a TRX, body weight exercises, etc. Again, it depends on your current ability and what you have access to. Most health clubs have all the bells and whistles, but bands, tubing, stability balls, medicine balls, etc are relatively inexpensive and can be used at home. Body weight exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups don’t require any equipment and can be very safe and effective if modified as needed. For my in-home clients that don’t have any equipment, I typically bring a bunch of “toys” to their sessions and we’ll make a fun game out of it 🙂
How to Start Strength Training
First things first; check with your Doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start a strength training program. Ask if there are any specific exercise restrictions (things that you shouldn’t do) or any specific recommendations. If you’re in the Minneapolis area, feel free to give me a call and we’ll schedule a fitness assessment to see what you’re current strengths and weaknesses are. From there, I can design a program that will help you achieve your goals in a safe and efficient manner. You’ll get a custom program with expert instruction to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly, which we’ll progress over time as you improve.
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