Benefits of Strength Training for Older Adults

Whether you are an older person with chronic pain or not, you can derive many health benefits from strength training. Your later years can be filled with many health issues like chronic pain, frailty and declining bone mass that can be addressed by a regular strength training regime. Such a program can add muscle and bone mass, improve balance and enhance joint function.

Why Seniors Should Strength Train?

In general, you will get weaker as you age.  From about age 30 on, you should experience a linear decline in muscle strength up until your 50s.  From age 60 onwards, you will likely experience a much sharper decline in body strength.

This reduction in body strength is linked to declines in muscular coordination and balance. This raises the risk of serious injury due to falls caused by uncertain gait. Seniors with diminishing muscle strength are also more likely to encounter injury involving car accidents or muscle strain.

Seniors also lose bone mass which can lead to more fractures. In the U.S. in 2010, it was estimated that almost 99 million people aged 50 or older had severely depleted bone density and 10.2 million had osteoporosis. This bone loss is primarily due to a slowdown in bone growth.

This bone loss can be corrected with weight-bearing exercise. Studies show that strength training can build back about 1 percent of bone mass per year.

In addition to structural changes like declining muscle mass, aging people also suffer from a slowing metabolism. This means that there is a greater risk of significant weight gain since your body doesn’t burn off calories as easily.

Combined with common health and cultural issues like joint stiffness, sedentary professions and poor diet, this slowing metabolism can often manifest as obesity. Obesity, in turn, can contribute to other serious health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure.

One of the key benefits of strength training is that it improves joint function. Not only does this kind of exercise help stretch tendons and lubricate joint components, but it also helps stabilize joints by strengthening surrounding muscles.

This greater joint functionality can enhance mobility and, therefore, independence.  Seniors with more self-reliance enjoy a higher quality of life that often means better self esteem and emotional health. Because they are able to do more, they can take pleasure in fulfilling activities like socializing.

How to Strength Train Safely

It is absolutely critical that you prioritize safety when strength train.  If you are new to strength training, you may need advice on how to do so safely. If you engaged in strength training at a younger age, you may want to push yourself harder than you should. In either case, it is wise to proceed slowly at first and under the tutelage of a more experienced strength trainer.

Before you begin any new fitness program, you should consult with your doctor. She can tell you what might be helpful as well as what to avoid.  More importantly, they can monitor your progress and make recommendations as you advance.

  • Educate yourself—before you engage in a strength training program, you should initially invest your time in learning about which muscle groups to target, the best form for your exercises, and how to keep yourself safe. You may want to talk to a physician, physical therapist or personal trainer to obtain this information.
  • Set reasonable goals—you should take things easy, especially at first. Pick a few exercises that work a key muscle group and just do a few reps. Primarily focus on form and breathing. Monitor your progress closely and incrementally increase your workout until you hit a safe pace that you can maintain long-term.
  • Warm up—take about ten minutes to warm up your body.  You may want to try out some light stretching or cardiovascular exercises to get yourself limber and your heart rate up.
  • Breathe—it is important to control your breathing while you work out.  Don’t hold your breath as that may weaken you or, even, cause you to lose consciousness. Breathe in prior to exertion and exhale as you perform the exercise. Try to make it a habit of controlled breathing.
  • Use a spotter—especially at first, have somebody watch you as you perform reps. That way if you encounter some difficulty, they can assist you and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Pay attention to your body—if you are feeling sick, injured or sore, you should skip the workout.  You are more likely to worsen your condition, and the risk isn’t worth the minor benefits from a single workout.

Strength Training Exercises for Seniors

Once you are ready to start working out, you need to select the specific exercises you want to do.  There are hundreds of different exercises, many with multiple variations, so this can be a little intimidating. Here are some of the most recommended exercises.

  • Leg squats—because loss of mobility is such a common issue among the elderly, it is important to focus on the lower body.  To perform a squat, stand in front of a chair and slowly lower your buttocks to the seat. Once you make contact with the chair, immediately return to your standing position.
  • Incline push-up—lean against a countertop with your body in a straight, rigid position. Gradually extend your arms until they are fully extended. As you progress, you can use surfaces that are closer to the floor.
  • Full body situp—lie down on the floor with both arms fully extended on the floor above your head. As you lift your arms, raise your chest. Bring your fingers all the way down to your toes, then return to your original position.
  • Bicep curl—in order to improve arm strength, you should perform bicep curls.  Grasp a dumbbell in one hand while standing.  Without moving your elbow, bring the dumbbell up to your shoulder, then slowly return to your original position.

Try to complete 8 to 12 reps each set before taking a minute or two of rest before the next set.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.