Strength training is just what older bodies need to fight the loss of muscle mass and strength, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 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.
For all older adults a regular program of strengthening, combined with aerobic exercises, can help reduce or prevent many functional declines associated with growing older.
Of 1,132 men and women who completed a South Shore YMCA basic fitness program, all showed significant benefits of strength and endurance training. All of the participants performed 25 minutes of strength exercise and 25 minutes of endurance exercise, two or three days per week for a period of eight weeks.
The 21 to 40 year old’s lowered their body weight by 2.6 pounds and their percent fat by 2.3%. The 41 to 60 year old’s decreased their body weight by 2.0 pounds and their percent fat by 2.1%. The 61 to 80 year olds reduced their body weight by 1.7 pounds and their percent fat by 2.0%. So you can see that the differences in the improvements were small compared to the overall improvements. The most remarkable finding was that by adding 2.4 pounds of muscle, the 61 to 80 age group reduced their physical age by an average of 5 years!
The Top Ten Benefits
In the same way that taking a once-a-day vitamin is beneficial, lifting weights and other kinds of strength training provide multiple benefits, according to the findings of many studies over the past several years. Here are the top reasons to get started on a resistance strength-training program:
- To improve functional strength and flexibility. This is important because it can help keep you safe in your daily activities and make you less vulnerable to falls or other injuries.
- To increase bone mass and density. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises can help protect against osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break.
- To build muscle strength. Adults lose between five and seven pounds of muscle every decade after age 20. Only strength training prevents muscle loss.
- To lower body fat. Research in strength training has demonstrated a four-pound fat loss after three months of training, even though study participants increased their daily caloric intake by 15 percent, according to the American Fitness Professionals Association.
- To reduce resting blood pressure. Strength training reduces resting blood pressure.
- To reduce low back pain. Research has shown that strength training can increase low back strength and alleviate low back pain.
- To reduce the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter (1994) published a study on sensible strength training that reduced the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- To reduce symptoms of other chronic diseases. Strength training can help to reduce the symptoms of depression, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and sleep disorders.
- To enhance your personal appearance. Improving your strength and your physique can also be a plus for your self-confidence and self-esteem.
- To increase serotonin the ‘feel good’ hormone.
Seniors can decrease their fat weight. Like the younger program participants, the senior subjects lost more than four pounds of fat weight during the eight week training period.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two or three days a week of strength training. As with any fitness program, be sure to talk to your doctor before getting started.
An excellent book on the subject is Strength Training for Seniors: How to Rewind Your Biological Clock by Michael Fekete C.S.C.S. A.C.E