There is no denying the benefits of strength training at any age, particularly in older adults. Numerous studies abound confirming strength training not only has positive effects on a person’s metabolism andlean muscle mass, but also can help alleviate, or even reverse, debilitating health conditions such as depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity and back pain.
According to Brian Housle, MS, MEd, an exercise physiologist at Duke Diet & Fitness Center, even your heart can reap the benefits of strength training, which results in leaner body composition, and ultimately reduces your risk of heart disease.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it!” said Dan FitzSimons, owner and trainer at Gyms in Cumming GA. “Strength training is crucial for fighting frailty and disability, increasing strength and mobility, and staying active and self-sufficient. Losing muscle and gaining fat are not part of our natural aging process! In fact, many symptoms of old age are really just symptoms of inactivity.”
At Genesis, Dan and the trainers use strength training as a weapon against aging and frailty, which is often associated with health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and also can lead to falls, the number one cause of injury related deaths in people age 65 and older. According to researchers at Duke, by strength training just two to three times a week, a person can lower their risk of falls by 40 percent.
“Strength training is an effective way to increase muscle strength, shed unwanted inches and become more toned,” Dan noted. “Additionally, your tendons, ligaments and bones also will be strengthened. Stronger joints are more stable and less prone to injury.”
Dan tailors his clients’ strength training workouts to meet their individual needs. “We take each person as an individual, assess their strengths and weaknesses and identify their fitness goals. Each client is unique, no matter what their age.”
Although it is suggested that people strength train two times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes, he prefers that his clients workout for a minimum of three times a week to ensure that they see progress. And, he says that as people get stronger, they will need to add weight to their exercises to improve.
Specific exercises that Dan might include in an older client’s workout include step-ups, which incorporate the use of a box or platform at least seven inches high, and are a great way to work on balance and coordination.
“Working the leg muscles while performing an everyday movement and carrying weights will increase a person’s strength, balance and confidence,” Dan noted. “I also use exercises such as squats to a chair while holding objects, rotational movements with a medicine ball to increase core strength and body awareness, and tossing and catching a medicine ball to work on a client’s reaction time and hand/eye coordination. I like keeping my older adult clients on their feet, on unstable surfaces, and if they need to sit for an exercise, they will sit on a stability ball.”
Dan also uses dynamic exercises for natural body movement that allows muscles, ligaments and tendons to work through a full range of motion. “We like to use an exercise called ‘swivel hips,’ which is like walking on a tight rope but on the floor. I ask my clients to step across the midline to help their muscles remain flexible and agile. They also are working on transferring body weight without losing balance.”
Consistent strength training, Dan says, especially that which focuses on strength and conditioning drills, can not only help us extend our lives, but help make those extended years quality ones.
“Beginning at around age 40, we lose about a half a pound of muscle each year, and that muscle is often replaced with fat,” Dan said. “Strength training can counteract age-related muscle loss, help keep your weight down and make you feel and look years younger. It also can help reduce arthritis pain, especially in the knees and back.”
While anyone at any age can begin a strength training program, Dan emphasizes that it is important they take certain precautions. “Be smart, start out slow, and get a trainer! It is important to interview a few trainers and find one with strong credentials and education that will suit your personal needs.”
“Understanding the importance of starting out slow, using moderate weights for low repetitions and listening to your body is crucial in avoiding injuries and building muscles. When someone is just starting out, it is so important to know that you are ‘conditioning’ your body with each workout so that you can progress to heavier weights and more repetitions, as well as a better range of motion over time. Too much, too fast will result in an injury to your ligaments and/or tendons and sideline you for a while, causing much frustration!”