The body naturally undergoes many transformations as it ages, from a decrease in bone density and muscle mass to an increase in risk associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. While there’s no way to completely halt or reverse the aging process, there are healthy habits a person can actively participate in that can slow down or minimize their risk of developing conditions like the above. A good way to think about it is: Someone with the muscle mass reserve of a bodybuilder like Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to take longer to show the adverse effects of a disease like sarcopenia (degenerative muscle loss) than a person living a fairly sedentary lifestyle.
So, consistency matters. It’s imperative to develop a daily healthy routine encompassing proper nutrition, preventative medicine, and exercise earlier in life that will carry through in the years to come.
One of the best forms of exercise for seniors (and perhaps the most misunderstood) is strength training.
What does strength training look like for seniors?
We often associate strength training solely with “heavy weights”, but the reality of it is that it’s actually a very adaptable form of exercise that can use light or heavy weights, and can be done in a variety of different forms besides just picking things up and setting them back down again. Experts suggest staying away from circuit machines and performing full body movements that mirror the range of motion used in daily life (squats, lunges, walking, jogging).
Though an additional misconception about strength training is that it’s difficult or overwhelming, and that there’s a greater risk of injury, the truth is that it’s no more dangerous than any other form of exercise, provided with the right information. Incorporating a personal trainer app for structured guidance, asking a local gym attendant, or seeking out experienced online professionals for training and equipment tips are all great ways to build foundational knowledge at any age.
Check out some of the benefits associated with a continued strength training regimen, below:
A study of adults over 60 struggling with depression found that most participants assigned to a higher-intensity resistance program saw up to a 50 percent improvement in their initial reported symptoms. While mental health is a difficult thing to quantify, it’s not the only study that points to a correlation between strength training and improved mental wellness, even above other forms of exercise traditionally tied to mood like HIIT (high intensity interval training).
Improved bone and muscle health
Osteoporosis and sarcopenia are two extremely common conditions amongst the older population that degrade bone and muscle integrity, respectively. Both the skeletal and muscular systems are responsible for the stability, movement, and form of the human body. As a sedentary person can lose up to 4 percent bone density and 5 percent muscle mass per year after age 30, resistance training plays a major role in slowing and in some cases even reversing effects.
Improved brain and memory function
A recent study published in the Neurology journal found that the higher fitness level a group of young adults (aged 18-30) had, the better cognitive function they reported 25 years later. Other studies have tied daily exercise to improving symptoms exhibited by Alzheimer’s patients, suggesting that a progressive strength training routine has the ability to mitigate long term memory impairment later on in life.
Increased confidence and independence
Though it seems natural to say, exercise is by nature a social activity. One often overlooked benefit of a fitness routine is the opportunity it provides for seniors, who have a tendency to feel isolated, connect with like-minded individuals, share knowledge, and form close-knit groups that encourage each other’s health goals. This renewed confidence furthers the desire to keep up with a regime, and thereby helps promote an increased level of independence both mentally and physically.
Longer life expectancy
According to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, older adults who maintained a twice-weekly strength training program had a lower mortality rate and longer overall life expectancy than their sedentary counterparts. That’s not to say that any form of daily exercise isn’t also helpful, however conclusions suggest that resistance exercises in particular help improve mobility and functionality in seniors, and are a huge part of the equation.
In short, a regular resistance training routine has been proven to alleviate symptoms of common health issues affecting older adults, and have the potential to greatly improve quality of life. It’s always best to consult a physician before embarking on a fitness regime, and adjust workouts to reflect health needs.