As we age, it becomes increasingly important to manage the factors that contribute to chronic conditions such as obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and impaired physical function that comes from loss of muscle mass and strength. Traditional exercise programs emphasize cardio-aerobic training, such as walking, jogging or running, to maintain general health, but recent guidelines for older adults suggest a well-balanced fitness program should also include resistance training and other muscle strengthening activities. According to the American Heart Association, cardio training alone is not sufficient to maintain and improve muscular strength, heart function, metabolism, coronary risk factors, and general wellbeing. 

Strength Training Guidelines and Benefits

Strength training is essential for reducing the risk of fall injuries by preserving muscle mass and strength needed for balance and coordination. Even for those who have difficulty performing activities like climbing stairs or walking, strength training is still safe and beneficial. In addition to some moderate to intense aerobic activity, generally fit adults age 65 or older are encouraged to participate in muscle strengthening activities two or more days each week. There are a variety of ways to meet the guidelines for physical activity each week, whether it is at home or in the gym. Using resistance bands and sit down machines, or performing body weight exercises, are all recommended. Adding variety to your weekly routine, by doing heavy gardening, yoga, or tai chi can also make physical activity more enjoyable while reducing the risk of injury (CDC, 2011).

Overcoming Common Barriers to Exercise

There are many factors that can make it more difficult to get adequate amounts of physical activity each week. Across all racial groups, health problems are the most commonly reported barrier to exercising. Chronic pain from arthritis, heart conditions, back problems, or other functional limitations keep many older adults from being active. Fear of falling and lack of knowledge are also commonly cited barriers to exercising, while some are simply unsure of how to incorporate more physical activity into their everyday life (Mathews, et al. 2010). Experts at Tufts University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Growing Stronger program specifically tailored for older adults interested in adopting a strength-training program. Using a chair or handrails for support and minimal equipment, this program can help increase muscle strength, preserve bone mineral density, and improve balance, coordination, and mobility. The program offers motivational tips, as well as valuable tools to safely prepare for and stay on track with a new strength-training program.

Enabling Physical Activity and Positive Outcomes

The positive health benefits and improved sense of wellbeing are powerful motivators to begin exercising. One study of 42 ethnically diverse groups of older adults found that most participated in exercise programs with the expectation of improved brain and heart health, and used physical activity as a means to manage weight, feel younger, and have more energy.  For those affected by osteoarthritis or other chronic pains, strength training may sound painful, but it can actually improve physical function and reduce painful symptoms. A Tufts University study found that home based strength training could provide substantial improvements in physical function as well as a reduction of pain for those who suffered from osteoarthritis in their knees by 43 percent. 

Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services.  She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health.  Visit for more info.