Resistance Training for Older Adults

 

As we age, the idea of lifting heavy things can seem very daunting, intimidating, or even dangerous at times. There are certain thought processes or stigmas in which people assume that older adults should not exercise vigorously or perform heavy exercises. In youth, this may not have bothered us at all, but with age often comes an unnecessary sense of fragility.

We were not designed to be fragile or weak at any age. Exercise has a number of benefits for people of all ages and comes in many shapes. Some benefits of exercise include lower all cause mortality rates, lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, improved bone health, improved cognition, improved endurance and strength, and better outcomes for metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

In fact, the benefits of exercise are so profound that the British Journal of Pharmacology released a paper in 2012 detailing the benefits of exercise and indicating that exercise could be recognized as a drug. Should these benefits only be for our youth? Of course not!

Breaking it down very generally we can lump exercise into two categories.

Cardiovascular training is generally designed to push our heart to work harder and improve our heart's capacity for work while also working our muscles under lower loads. This is generally what we think of as running, walking, cycling, rowing or using the elliptical. This makes up a very important part of our training as we clearly need our heart to function properly.

Resistance training is the other side of the coin- in which we focus more on muscular strength rather than cardiovascular benefits. This requires the participant to lift things that are relatively heavy to that person.

Consistently lifting heavy things and training should then allow us to lift heavy things within our every day lives. This then allows us to continue to progressively lift even heavier things... and the cycle continues. Obviously, both forms of exercise benefit our muscles and heart. I'm simply pointing out the major focus of each.

Many people think of stereotypes of resistance training. You might be thinking of musclebound guys or girls screaming in the gym while lifting large amounts of weight.

Realistically, what resistance training prepares us for as normal people is to lift our groceries and carry them into the house or carry her laundry basket down the hall safely or simply walking more safely in general.

Unfortunately, given the stigma of frailty projected onto our older populations, health and fitness professionals are often hesitant to add heavy resistance to certain age groups during exercise and fitness training.

This does not allow for appropriate muscular adaptations and often does not allow for them to lift anything heavier than they are accustomed to. Only with loading patients/clients and challenging their muscles appropriately can we make adaptations and improve muscular function which can impact their every day lives.

My proposition is that we, as health and fitness professionals, need to be loading our older patients and clients well enough that we impact their physical potential.

For example, if the absolute most that a patient can lift is the weight of their full laundry basket, that makes doing laundry consistently VERY difficult.

Our goal with resistance training should be that common tasks will eventually become easier to perform. Success is when the max load that they are able to carry increases in relation to when they began the resistance training.

So what do we do?

Lift heavy things.

So we know that we need to exercise..but now what?

My three personal favorite exercises for everyone of all ages and activity levels are the SQUAT the DEAD LIFT and the WEIGHTED CARRY. I am a firm believer that every person should be able to perform a proper squat and dead lift. and I believe that we should all be able to perform them relatively well and comfortably throughout our life span.

These two exercises are very functional and easy to practice without equipment. If you need a reason to squat, deadlift and carry, I will ask... "How you get out of a chair? How do you pick up groceries from the floor? How do you carry your laundry basket down the hallway?" These are incredibly simple tasks that when we are healthy and strong we take for granted. As we age, we need to maintain as much strength as possible to ensure our independence with these tasks.

Practicing these movements and, when necessary, working with a professional for proper instruction on these motions and activities can help our older population maintain independence and REGAIN much needed strength. One major concerns specifically for the older adult is the fear of falling.

Falls become much more common and dangerous as we age. What do we do? WE GET STRONGER!

Strength training in older adults has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of falls.

A study of fall prone older men indicated that resistance training significantly increased activity levels as well as decreasing the number of falls per activity hours. This means that people who lifted weights became more active and were significantly less likely to fall while being active.

In summary, an appropriate strength training regimen for all ages is beneficial. Specifically for our older population, it can quite literally be the determining factor in whether or not someone can live at home independently or not.

In 2011, Bret Contreras, PhD said "if you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous." This is incredibly realistic for our older populations.

 It is always a good time to GET STRONG and STAY STRONG!

 

Bradley Holstein, PTA

OCSM Department of PHYSICAL THERAPY

Please feel free to contact me for referneces and more information.

STAY STRONG!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Bradley Holstein, PTA

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