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Strength Training for Senior Citizens

January 2008
Strength Training for Senior Citizens

By age of 65 if you haven’t exercised regularly, you can lose up to 80 percent of your muscle mass, according to a recent statistic. This spells trouble for a lot of our Asian Indian senior citizens who haven’t made exercise a part of their lifestyle. Throughout life, loss of muscle mass is accelerated with physical inactivity and lack of strength training. As we age, the body loses some of its capacity to perform normal functions. Illnesses become more difficult to handle as do the daily activities of life such as bathing, climbing up steps, getting up after sitting for a period of time, etc. Additionally, seniors often face health challenges such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and chronic pain. Regular moderate physical activity and strength training can help seniors live longer, manage disease, and also reduce health hazards such as slips and falls.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), “Strength training is just what older bodies, even very old or frail ones need to fight the loss of muscle mass and strength.” The ACSM believes that “strength training is the most important exercise for older adults who aren't fit, and that it should come before aerobic activity, not afterward, as is typically the case.”

Special challenges: Asian Indian senior citizens face several challenges when it comes to exercise and strength training. The first and foremost is having the feeling that they are “too old” to exercise or it is too late in their life to begin an exercise program. Interestingly, research shows that strength training can improve muscle mass and function even in a 90-year-old subject! Our seniors must realize that they are never “too old” to begin a strength training program and must understand that if performed consistently strength training will not only allow them to become stronger, but also increase their confidence and self esteem. Next, Asian Indian seniors lack the adequate support system and education about the benefits of strength training to begin such a program. It is important that immediate family members realize the significance of strength training and the benefits that it can offer their senior relatives in order to provide them with the appropriate support, resources and professional assistance that is required. This can go a long way in making seniors feel valued and loved.

Senior citizens at times are also apprehensive about moving their bodies and being active and, therefore, may sit or relax for long periods of time. Family members must encourage seniors to use their bodies more and promote activity. For example, allow and encourage the senior member of the family to walk more by parking the car farther away from the grocery store instead of being dropped off at the door.

The best fitness program: The ideal program for seniors is that of walking 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes in addition to strength training. If joint issues are a problem, swimming or riding a recumbent bike instead of walking is ideal. Since seniors are often faced with health challenges it is best for them to perform strength training exercises under the supervision of a professional trainer twice a week to prevent injury. Dumbbell exercises are favored along with machines to allow seniors to gradually increase their range of motion and strength. A full body 30-minute strength training routine performed twice a week that uses all major muscles is best for healthy seniors. Balance and functional training exercises that increase mobility and coordination are also of great benefit to seniors. As with any exercise routine, to achieve optimal benefits, seniors should exercise consistently and make it a habit.   

With strength training, it is possible for seniors to lead long satisfying lives, remain healthy and strong without having to depend on others for help with their daily activities. After all, isn’t that what we want for our beloved seniors?


Hosted by Aarti Patel and Dr. Gulshan Harjee

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