It's important to work out at every age, but as we get older, it's easy to forget the benefits of strength training. This is a mistake - maintaining good strength training practices can help ease the effects of aging. Consider sharing these tips with a senior adult you care about, or starting up a strength training program yourself:
Know Why You're Doing It
Strength training has been proven to have many benefits, particularly for older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strength training can be instrumental in helping to reduce the symptoms of many chronic conditions and diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and obesity.
Research has shown that strength training helps with:
- Better balance and reduction of broken bones from falls
- Bone strengthening
- Heart health
- Glucose control
- Weight control and maintenance
- Quality of sleep
- Healthy state of mind and reduction of depression
- Arthritis relief
Know How to Do It
Strength training can be easier than you think, since it requires minimal equipment and time to be effective. According to the CDC, when done correctly and with your doctor's guidance, strength training can be a safe form of exercise even for individuals with health problems.
New guidelines from U.S. Health and Human Services suggest that older adults need to perform muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week to work all major muscle groups. These include your legs, arms, shoulders, hips, back, abdomen, and chest.
The exercise laboratory at Tufts University recommends that older adults follow a regimen of strengthening exercises. Remember to build up slowly. These exercises should not be painful. If you experience any sharp pains, stop the exercise, and seek the advice of a medical professional to determine if you should continue the strength training regimen.
Warm-up: Before starting your strength training, walk for 5 to 10 minutes either indoors or outside. This will help prepare your body for exercise by directing blood flow to your muscles, which can help to prevent injury.
Stage 1: Begin your strength-training program by focusing on performing four exercises for at least two weeks: squats, wall push-ups, toe stands, and finger marching. Squats help to strengthen your thighs, hips, and buttocks, while wall push-ups strengthen your arms, shoulders, and chest. Toe stands will give you stronger ankles and calves, and finger marching can help improve your grip. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to discuss proper technique for these simple exercises. You can easily do these at home!
Stage 2: After you've successfully practiced the exercises in Stage 1 for at least two weeks, you can add:
- Biceps curls - Use either light dumbbells or a jug of milk.
- Step-ups - These require only a set of stairs.
- Overhead press - This involves raising light dumbbells above your head, one in each hand, from a seated or standing position.
- Hip abduction - Simply lift one leg at a time out to the side while keeping your knees straight without locking them.
Stage 3: Once you've been doing exercises from the first two stages for at least six weeks, you can start incorporating some knee exercises. Knee extensions target the muscles in the front of your thigh, and knee curls target the muscles in the back of your leg. These two exercises should be done as a pair, starting with extension exercises from a seated position, simply raising and lowering each leg in turn from a chair. For the knee curl, stand up behind your chair, using the back of the chair for support. Bend one leg, keeping your foot flexed, and bring your heel toward your buttocks; then switch legs. Add ankle weights for more of a challenge on either of these exercises.
Cool Down: Stretch the muscles of your arms, legs, chest, back, shoulders, and neck for your cool down. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. While you do each stretch, try to relax and keep breathing deeply. Be careful not to push the stretch too far--it should not be painful.
Put It in Practice: Train for Your Future
When you understand the benefits of strength training for seniors, you'll see why it's so important to share this information with your elderly loved ones. The motivation you provide in the form of your support and guidance can make all the difference in helping them reach their health and fitness goals. And while you're at it, start building your own strength training routine now too--it could help keep you going strong for years to come.