Older and stronger: why older people should take up strength training

Older and stronger

It's often thought that older adults must tolerate the strength and muscle loss that come with age. However not only can we fight the battle of strength and muscle loss as we age, we can even build muscle and strength well into our Golden Years.
Getting older doesn't mean giving up muscle strength. Not only can adults fight the battle of strength and muscle loss that comes with age, but the Golden Years can be a time to get stronger.

Resistance exercise is a great way to increase lean muscle tissue and strength capacity so that people can function more readily in daily life.
Through resistance training adults can improve their ability to stand up out of a chair walk across the floor, climb a flight of stairs -- anything that requires manipulating their own body mass through a full range of motions.

The most important factor in somebody's function is their strength capacity. No matter what age an individual is, they can experience significant strength improvement with progressive resistance exercise even into the eighth and ninth decades of life.

Progressive resistance training means that the amount of weight used, and the frequency and duration of training sessions is altered over time to accommodate an individual's improvements.
In a study, after an average of 18-20 weeks of progressive resistance training, an adult coud add 1kg of lean muscle to their body mass and increases their overall strength by 25-30 percent.

But the process of bulking up works differently in older people than in young people.
Skeletal muscles are composed of various types of fibers and two things "happen" to those fibers after we reach middle age.  
Some fibers die, especially if we have not been exercising our muscles much. Sedentary adults can lose 30 to 40 percent of the total number of fibers in their muscles by the time they are 80. Normally, adults who are sedentary beyond age 50 can expect muscle loss of up to 200g a year.
But even earlier in adulthood (the 30s, 40s and 50s) you can begin to see declines if you do not engage in any strengthening activities.
Other fibers remain alive but shrink and atrophy as we age. We increase the size of our atrophied muscle fibers with exercise but, for a variety of physiological reasons, do not add to the number of fibers. But in practical terms, who cares? Older muscles will become larger and stronger if you work them.

Recommendations for those over age 50

Aanyone over age 50 should strongly consider participating in resistance exercise.

A good way for people to start on a resistance training program, especially for people who are relatively sedentary (and after getting permission from their doctor to do so) is to use their body mass as a load for various exercises.

Exercises you can do using your own body weight include squats, standing up out of a chair, modified push-ups, lying hip bridges, as well as non-traditional exercises that progress through a full range of motion, such as Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates.

Transition to the gym

After getting accustomed to these activities, older adults can move on to more advanced resistance training in an exercise and fitness facility. A certified trainer or fitness professional that has experience with special populations can help with the transition.
Visit several gyms before deciding to join one. Ask whether they have experience in training aging adults and always ask for a tour in the gym in order to see for yourself whether there are other aging adults and also whether they are really getting special attention from trainers.

Working out at age 20 is not the same as at age 70. A fitness professional who understands those differences is important for your safety. While current recommendations suggest that an older individual participate in strengthening exercise two days per week, it is best to see this as a minimum.

Don't forget to progress

As resistance training progresses and weights and machines are introduced, it is recommended to incorporate full body exercises and exercises that use more than one joint and muscle group at a time, such as the leg press, chest press, and rows. These are safer and more effective in building muscle mass.

You should also keep in mind the need for increased resistance and intensity of your training to continue building muscle mass and strength.
A good fitness professional can help plan an appropriate training regimen, and make adjustments based on how you respond as you progress.
Progressive resistance training is highly encouraged for healthy older adults to help minimize the loss of muscle mass and strength as they age.

The key is regular and progressive weight training. If you don’t belong to a gym, consider joining one, and then plan on tiring yourself. In order to initiate the biochemical processes that lead to larger, stronger fibers, you should push your muscles until they are exhausted.

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