By James Riley
Muscle wasting or loss of strength as we age, called sarcopenia, is the silent epidemic of aging especially because debilitating decline in muscle mass is preventable. This loss of muscle mass leads to a number of chronic problems for seniors such as, osteoporosis, falling, imbalance, obesity and the inability to perform common everyday and sport activities.
Research, in Western cultures indicates men, on average, reach peak strength in their late 20s and women reach it several years later. A general review of research indicates we lose about 7% of our strength each decade beginning at age 30. At age 60 the rate of muscle loss increases to about 10% per decade as we move into our senior years. Such norms are accurate and accepted by many as the natural aging process.
Within the research data are the norms of active men and women who perform some type of resistance exercise regularly throughout their lives and retain far greater strength than their less-active peers. This data clearly demonstrates that we ask muscles to be strong by frequently using them we retain much of our younger strength, declining at a far slower rate. Much research also indicates that previously inactive seniors can use resistance training to regain most the strength they had previously lost. Remember, the golden rule of all training is the body responds to what we ask it to do. If we’re active the body responds to the demand for activity and becomes stronger. Inactivity promotes weakness.
What are the Benefits of Strength Training?
Listed below are some of the most important benefits of maintaining and improving strength.
1. Regular weight bearing activity is essential for maintaining bone density and preventing the debilitating bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. It is well known that most of our bone mineral content is acquired before thirty, then it slowly begins to decline as we age. To stimulate retention of bone matter large muscle weight bearing activity is required. Most fitness and health organizations suggest a minimum of 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise at least two days per week.
2. Falling is a common concern for seniors. Falls often result in broken bones, cause concussions and may result in abrasions. Falling may be considered a chronic disease for many frail seniors. The most effective remedy to reduce the risk of falling is regular resistance training. Resistance training not only will improve muscle mass and bone density t but will also ingrain the correct biomechanics of movement that improves balance and coordination while improving strength. Two to three days of weekly strength training is a small price to pay for fall prevention.
3. Strength training will improve abilities to perform average daily activities. Senior often complain about difficulty doing simple activities they once did with ease such as: getting up from the floor, carrying groceries and other items, and lifting and bending. These skills allow for greater independence and enjoyment of life.
4. Effective strength training will improve appearance by improving posture and adding muscle mass thereby adding a more firm look to our body.
Which Exercises are Best for Strength Training?
I suggest beginning with three essential movements that are functional to daily activities, challenge most of the muscles in the body, and can be done at home.
1. Carry stuff as you walk about during the day. Carry groceries, take trash out, pick stuff up and move it. This activity gives you a great full body workout challenging the arms, torso, hips and legs to become stronger. It’s a simple activity and more vigorous than expected.
2. Do a brisk daily walk for at least 30 minutes daily. Walking is the most natural movement and provides weight bearing exercise for the hips and legs as well as other benefits. Walk on terrain that feels secure but challenges your balance and agility skills. Including hills stimulates increased muscle growth and is great cardio.
3. Get up and down from the floor three to five times daily. This activity is vigorous and strengthens muscles throughout the body, especially the postural and backside muscles and improves mobility. If you find this exercise difficult reach for a table or sturdy chair to assist you.
4. Added strength stimulating activities may include some form of push-ups and pull-ups and lunge and squat variations. All can be done at home or in the gym. Professional training can be found at most gyms and through strength training fitness classes for those unfamiliar with strength training.
Much research exists that indicates age-related strength loss can be greatly alleviated by being active and performing a minimum 30 minutes of weight bearing activity at least twice weekly. Maintaining strength will enhance any seniors lifestyle and do much to reduce chronic problems many of us experience such as falling, osteoporosis and increased dependence on others. In short, strength training will improve your life in many ways.