Strength Training for Older People

Photo Credit: NIH Public Domain
How many times each month do you lift a basket of laundry, load the car with heavy bags from the market, pick up a small child or move furniture to clean underneath? Daily activities like these require strength and endurance. The old adage “if you don’t use it you lose it” definitely holds true for muscle mass and strength. As we age, we can lose muscle mass if we become or remain inactive. Inactivity combined with aging can result in increased body fat, small, weak muscles and a loss of bone density. Even if you have already experienced some muscle mass loss and decreased bone density, exercise and strength training can help restore some of your lost muscle and bone. Regular exercise that includes strength training can also help reduce the risk and symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, obesity and chronic back pain. If you have been inactive for several months or if you have never practiced a regular exercise and strength training regime, see your doctor for a complete physical and advice about the best strength training program for you. 
You don’t need to join a gym or use expensive exercise equipment to start a strength training program. Push-ups, crunches, squats and lunges are all exercises that you can do using only the weight of your own body for resistance. Warm up and prepare your muscles for strength training exercises by stretching. Start out slowly and perform only a few body weight resistance exercises. Try to complete 5 repetitions of each exercise for the first few days. Gradually increase the number of repetitions until you can perform 15 repetitions without becoming exhausted. You can continue to increase repetitions or increase the amount of time devoted to each exercise. Perform each exercise for 3 minutes every other day for the first week. Don’t focus on the number of repetitions, but each exercise continuously for a full 3 minutes. Add one minute to each exercise each week until you can exercise for a full 30 minutes without becoming exhausted.
Try some free weights like dumbbells or add some resistance band exercises after your begin to see results. Resistance bands are rubber tubes that stretch and offer resistance when you pull on them. You can stand on a resistance band and pull it upward with your arms for triceps, biceps and upper body strength training. Free weights can also help increase arm and upper body strength. 
Begin any new strength training program slowly and carefully. Always take a full 24 hours of rest between strength training exercises to allow your muscles to recover and repair. The goal in strength training is to gradually increase your strength and endurance. Stop exercising immediately if you feel any pain in your muscles or joints. Pain is an indication that you are over-exerting your body. You may feel a bit sore after the first few days, which is normal as your muscles and joints are not accustomed to the extra work. See a doctor immediately if pain persists or if there is swelling. 

For more information about strength training, see:
Centers for Disease Control, Why Strength Training?

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