As the the baby boomers age the number of adults over 55 is growing rapidly. They call it “The Silver Tsunami” I’ve worked with aging adults over the last 22 years and there is definitely a shift in mind set in the baby boomer generation. For one, they are more proactive about their health and more likely to participate in exercise and physical activity. This is wonderful but is this age group getting the right kind of physical activity.
Drive by any senior living community or suburban neighborhood on a nice day and you will see people out walking. Walking is great exercise, it burns calories, improves aerobic conditioning and its functional….but walking is not enough. The ACSM recommends 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity a day, that’s 30 min 5 times a week. They also recommend strength training a minimum of 2 days a week and to also incorporate balance training as well.
Benefits of Strength Training for Older Adults
We begin to lose muscle mass in our 30s and the process only speeds up as we age and more exponentially for those who are sedentary. Strength training has shown to not only help older adults live longer but improve their quality of life as well. With benefits such as:
- Improved strength
- Improved muscle mass
- Improved physical function
- Improved management or risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and osteoporosis
- Manage conditions such as low back pain and obesity
However some surveys report only 9% of older adults participate in some sort of strength training. And these recommendations are not just for healthy active aging adults, the same hold true for frail adults as well. There is even evidence that improved diet along with strength training can reverse frailty in older adults.
What types of Strength Training?
The ACSM recommends 8-10 strength training exercise with 10-15 reps per exercise. These exercises should address all the muscle groups. Also to reap the long term benefit for strength training, the program should be progressive. This means you need to make it harder. The last 2-3 reps of each exercise should be somewhat difficult, it you are completing 15 reps easily you need to increase your weight. That means put those 2lb pink weights away!! Strength training can include:
- Free weights or weight machines
- Resistance bands
- Body weight exercises (good ole counter push ups!!)
Is Strength Training OK for Everyone?
With a few unusual exceptions, I would say YES!!! Always check with your doctor before starting any kind of new exercise program, and if you have any health conditions, such as arthritis or cardiac conditions, check with your doctor to see if you have any lifting restrictions. However I am here to tell you strength training is beneficial at most any age. I have been working with a client for the past year. She is 95 years old, about 4’11” and maybe 90 pounds. When we started she could lift a 1 pound weight and needed frequent rest breaks. Today we are using 3 pound weights, she’s moved up 3 levels in resistance bands, takes only 2 breaks and her family is even considering traveling with her cross country to visit family because she is functioning so much better. The focus of her program has been strength and balance training. And I don’t feel she is an exception, many seniors out there have the same potential given the right guidance.
Where to Start?
Start with a medical clearance from your doctor to be sure exercise is safe for you. There are actually very few instances where exercise in contraindicated. Once cleared there are several avenues you can take.
- Check out your local senior center, they often have low cost exercise programs, but make sure you are advancing your weight or resistance to get the most benefit.
- Youtube has tons and tons of videos of exercise programs and yes, they have videos geared to seniors.
- Check out your local gym. Most gyms offer a few free sessions with a personal trainer to get you started and make sure you are using proper form.
- Community and Apartment gyms. The community you live in may have a great fitness facility and maybe even classes.
- Personal Training. Now as a personal trainer I am biased here. But I do believe its a good investment to make sure you are getting a program that’s right for you and that your are progressing appropriately to get the most benefit. Make sure you research the trainer you are considering. Are they Certified by a reputable organization? ACSM, NASM, and ACE are some of your most reputable. Are they experienced in working with adults over 55? Look for certified Senior Fitness Specialist or someone with a proven track record working with seniors. Ask for references specifically from other seniors or family.
Strength training should be a corner stone of any fitness program but it is especially important for adults over 55 in order to remain strong and independent as they age.