Of the various types of exercise, strength training is arguably the most important but least utilized in older adults. Why?
There are numerous explanations for this, ranging from a lack of understanding of why it is important, not knowing how to effectively train strength, healthcare professionals not challenging their clients enough, etc. By the time you finish reading this article, you should have a better understanding of why you should strive to incorporate heavier weights/resistance when exercising!
WHAT IS STRENGTH TRAINING?
Strength training involves using heavy weights or resistance to perform exercises targeting specific muscle groups. Typically, the guidelines for strength training involve using heavier weights while performing less repetitions of an exercise. In contrast, endurance training involves using lighter weights while performing more repetitions. Both are incredibly important and necessary, however, as we age, strength training tends to fall by the wayside. This doesn’t need to be the case! Here are some benefits of strength training:
Improves muscle quality (decreased risk of sarcopenia or muscle wasting)
Improves bone density (decreased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis)
Prevents chronic health conditions (heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, etc.)
Reduces risk for falls and fractures
According to the CDC’s recommendations for physical activity, adults 18-65 as well as adults 65 and older should engage in at least 2 days of muscle building exercise per week. Unfortunately about 75% of adults over the age of 45 are not meeting these requirements. In order not to fall into this statistic, here are some ideas to start improving your strength!
1) Perform upper body exercises one day and lower body exercises the second day
This way, you’ll meet the CDC guidelines for at least 2 days of strength training. Make sure to include all major muscle groups: arms, shoulders, chest, core/abdominals, back, hips, and legs.
There are numerous exercises that are effective to strengthen these muscle groups as well as different variations to perform based on your fitness level. Remember to seek advice from a healthcare professional if you are unsure of where to start.
2) Choose a weight (if using equipment like dumbbells) or resistance (if using resistance bands) with which you can perform 7-9 repetitions of an exercise.
Keep in mind that the last 2 repetitions should be difficult! This range helps to build strength effectively.
WORK WITH SOMEONE WHO WILL CHALLENGE YOU
Healthcare providers (physical therapists included) have been guilty in the past of “under-dosing” exercise for aging adults, meaning they do not prescribe hard enough or frequent enough exercise for this population. Often times, this has been due to fear of the client injuring themselves or having an adverse health event like a stroke or heart attack. However, if correct measures are taken (including taking blood pressure and heart rate frequently throughout a training session), older adults are capable of much more than just using the pink dumbbells!
If you are an older adult, you should be aware of your specific limitations and fitness level when working with a healthcare professional, but you also need to do your part in speaking up to let your provider know when exercises are too easy for you. Likewise, healthcare professionals need to do their part in properly assessing fitness level and prescribing an effective exercise routine that does not shy away from heavier or more intense resistance training exercises.
If you have questions about strength training, feel free to contact us for additional recommendations on our website or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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