The Importance of Strength Training For Older Adults

by Deborah L. Mullen, CSCS

Do you hope to maintain quality of life as you grow older? Is it important that you're able to perform your daily tasks, enjoy your recreational activities, and care for yourself? You probably would like to stay fit, trim, strong and mobile for as long as possible. If you do happen to have some physical limitations, you would want to halt or maybe even improve your condition. This doesn't have to be just wishful thinking. You don't have to accept frailty as you age!

Good News On the Physical Front!
You can do more than just hope for a strong, mobile body as you age. It is possible to turn back the aging clock! The myth is that as we grow older we get much weaker and suffer more aches and pains. We've been told that losing muscle and gaining fat are just part of the natural aging process. The fact is that many of the symptoms of old age are really the symptoms of inactivity---of using our muscles less! Muscle weakness, bone loss, and sluggish metabolism are changes that accompany aging but are not solely caused by it.

Use it or lose it! No doubt you have heard this phrase before. I can't think of a better one to describe what happens to our bodies as we age. You can slow and possibly reverse many of the symptoms associated with aging. It is possible to turn back the clock. By increasing your strength and flexibility, you can turn your wishful thinking into a reality!

Strength Training: The Primary Weapon Against Aging
They still haven't found the fountain of youth, but something close to it. Researchers at Tufts University exercise lab say that strength training is a potent age eraser. It is their weapon of choice for fighting physical declines associated with aging.

More and more fitness experts are recommending strength training for health reasons--for women as well as men, older adults as well as younger adults. Strength training is extremely important in combating the age-related declines in muscle mass, bone density and metabolism. It is an effective way to increase muscle strength and to shed unwanted inches. Strength training also helps to decrease back pain, reduce arthritic discomfort, and help prevent or manage some diabetic symptoms.

The Muscle-Fat Connection
Physical inactivity causes an average muscle loss of 5-7 pounds per decade. This muscle loss leads to a metabolic rate reduction of 2-5% per decade. Calories that were previously used for muscle energy are put into fat storage, resulting in gradual weight gain. One study on older adults (Campbell, 1994) showed that a 3-month basic strength-training program resulted in the exercisers adding 3 pounds of muscle and losing 4 pounds of fat, while eating 15% more calories!

Osteoporosis Prevention
At Tufts University, researchers found that strength training can add bone density. Prior to this research, it was thought that women might be able to slow their bone loss, but not increase their bone density. This new study shows that strength training at any age can actually add bone, not just slow its loss!

Arthritic Pain Decreases
According to Tufts, sensible strength training may be one of the best ways to get relief from your arthritis. Not only will it help to lubricate and nourish the joint, strength training will also strengthen the muscles around the joint, providing it with greater support.

Glucose Metabolism Improvement
As we age, our glucose sensitivity decreases. Poor glucose metabolism is associated with Type II diabetes. One study (Hurley 1994) found that after 4 months of strength training, there was an average increased glucose uptake of 23%!

Strength Training is a Simple Concept
It involves briefly working your muscles, on a regular basis, a little more than they are accustomed to working. This causes your muscles to become stronger and more toned. Also, your tendons, ligaments and bones will be strengthened. This strengthening will make your joints more stable and less prone to injury. Everyday tasks will become easier, such as picking up grocery bags or grandchildren, getting up from a low sofa or going up stairs.

If It's So Great, Why Aren't We Using It?
Just because we know something is beneficial, doesn't mean we actually will do it. There are many roadblocks to good intentions. Do any of these sound familiar?

sm_blue_oval.gif (76 bytes) "There isn't a health club in the area that caters to older adults/I can't afford a membership."
sm_blue_oval.gif (76 bytes) "I'd like to do some exercises at home, but I am not sure what are the best ones for me and what equipment I should be using."
sm_blue_oval.gif (76 bytes) "I am away from home a lot, so it's hard to stick with a program."
sm_blue_oval.gif (76 bytes) "I don't want to spend a lot of time exercising."
sm_blue_oval.gif (76 bytes) "It looks too hard--too intimidating!"
sm_blue_oval.gif (76 bytes) "I'm too old to start."

 Your Problems Are Solved
Now you can eliminate your roadblocks and reap the benefits of strength training. Exercise bands (aka rubber resistance tubing) are perfect for the person over fifty who wants a simple, safe, effective, and inexpensive way to train at home. 

Exercise bands are an effective tool for strength training. When you strength train, your muscles exert a force against some type of resistance. It doesn't matter if this resistance is from machines, dumbbells, or rubber tubing---your muscles, connective tissue, and bones will respond by getting stronger.

A reserch study (Mikesky, 1994) found that older adults who used rubber tubing for 12 weeks on a moderate program increased their strength an average of 82%! In a review of this study, Ralph LaForge, renowned fitness expert, remarked "These results suggest that home-based resistance training program utilizing elastic tubing can serve as a practical, effective means of eliciting strength gains in adults over the age of 65. Exercise bands are inexpensive, compact and easy to use, and is therefore a convenient means of strength training for those who are older and on limited incomes."

As you get stronger with strength training, you will need added resistance in order to improve. If you are using dumbbells, you need to use heavier weights---this can get costly and cumbersome. With exercise bands, you simply move it farther to make an exercise harder. Also, they allow you to train muscles that dumbbells can't train in a seated position, such as the chest and mid-back. Because an exercise band only weighs a few ounces, it as very portable.

A Call to Action

Strength training is critical for combating frailty and disability, for increasing strength and mobility, for staying active and self-sufficient. Research has consistently shown the fitness and health benefits of strength training for older adults. You don't have to decline with age! You can control these declines or even reverse them with strength training---it will have a great impact on the quality of your life as you grow older.

It's never too late to turn back the clock with this powerful age eraser. Strength training can improve the quality of your life at any age or condition. Traditionally it was thought that it was normal to get weak and feeble as one aged. We now know that this is not true--that inactivity is the culprit, not aging itself. But you are lucky--you have access to new research that wasn't available to the previous generations. It's important to embrace new information, even if it means tossing out familiar ideas.

If you want to stay fit, trim, strong, mobile, and physically independent as you age, then you should be strength training for 30 minutes, twice a week. There isn't another investment that pays off as well.   

Note: Although a moderate strength training is very safe, if you are 35 or older or have heart disease or another medical condition, you should check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.


Find exercise band kits and other exercise products suitable for older adults at Simple Fitness Solutions.

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