Everywhere you go these days you hear or read about the importance of strength training for seniors. But what is it really?
Strength training is improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force by using weights or machines. The most important part of this definition is that their needs to be resistance and it needs to be ongoing. Just lifting a leg off the bed is not strength training. A weight needs to be added to increase strength.
What are some signs that an older adult has poor leg strength?
- Difficulty walking including; shuffling feet, bent knees and trunk.
- Needing a walker
- Difficulty getting out of chairs
- Needing help with transfers
How does an older adult increase strength? Leg strength training is most beneficial when completed lying flat on the bed or floor using weights. We have found that when older adults are able to lift four pounds with four specific lying down exercises their mobility and balance improves. This process takes 10 minutes and only needs to be completed two times per week.
What are the misconceptions about strength training for older adults? One common misconception is that walking, swimming, biking, climbing stairs or water aerobics are leg strengthening exercises. These are great exercises for heart health, but you must already have a certain amount of leg strength to be able to do any of those activities. Another important fact is that leg strength is not permanent. Unfortunately, people start losing strength three to five days after they stop their training exercises. As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it.”
Is strength training different for seniors and what does it involve? Seniors need specific muscles strengthened to help reduce falls, increase balance, and keep independence. People start losing strength at age 30 but the speed that we lose strength increases at age 60 – 70. The good news is you can reverse this process and get back two decades of lost strength by engaging in lower extremity strength training for at least two months!!
Is there a reason someone should not do this? We have found everyone can increase strength no matter age or diagnosis. “Research shows that many of the problems once attributed to aging such as slowing down, declining muscle strength and fatigue are actually the result of a sedentary lifestyle. 80% of the health problems once associated with aging are now thought to be preventable or postponable if person keeps fit.” Dr. Leaf: Harvard Medical School
What are the benefits to strength training?
- Stops falls
- Negates the need to use a walker
- Increases independence
- Increases confidence
- Reduces depression
- Increases energy
Going to a gym is a great addition to an exercise program but the machines do not target the specific muscles that prevent falls and increase balance, which is what seniors need to focus on. The help of a physical therapist that encourages strength training can streamline their exercise program so that they are getting the most efficient and maximum results. Get Strong. Stay Strong.
Nicole Rennie, PT, GCS
Founder, Owner of Senior Abilities Unlimited exclusive provider of Tandem Strength & Balance
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA meets five times a year to exchange information and problem solve in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org.