Resistance training for older adults

Aging is associated with several biological changes some of these include the reduction of muscle, strength, function leading to frailty. As we all know, it’s natural to see some changes as we age, however you can slow down the decline through movement. Physical activity is able to attenuate the physical, but also the cognitive deterioration associated with aging (Garcia-Hermosos et al. 2020). As well as this, there is high certainty in the literature that higher levels of physical activity can lead to better quality of life! (Rugbeer et al. 2017).

Among the contributors to the aging process, muscle disuse is a preventable and reversible factor. Muscle disuse often leads to reductions in strength so as the old saying goes “move it or lose it”! Loss of muscle is generally gradual, and to many people’s surprise it begins after age 30, but accelerates after 60 years. Between the ages of 40-80 muscle mass can reduce by up to 30-50%. Unfortunately, reductions in muscle mass are also associated with decline in function, with an annual decline of 3% seen after 60 years (Marty et al. 2017). Muscle loss appears to affect the lower limbs more than the upper limbs (Goodpaster et al. 2006) . This is very important to note as we depend on our lower limbs for almost every movement in our daily lives – walking, getting out of bed, standing up from a chair, using the stairs, keeping us balanced and upright!

Resistance training (also known as strength training) has been shown to improve bone density, insulin sensitivity, quality of life, reduce inflammation, reduce risk of falls, help in the management of chronic health conditions, and lead to extended periods of independent living.
The guidelines recommend at least 2 resistance sessions per week for all adults. Despite the clear benefits, unfortunately many older adults don’t meet the recommendations and miss out on all the potential benefits mentioned above. You won’t be one who misses out will you?

What can you do to prevent muscle loss?

  • Do at least 2 resistance training sessions per week.
  • Guidelines recommend completing 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise.
  • The intensity should build up to 80% of your maximum which means you do have to push yourself!! So if you are doing an exercise for example squats and you feel you could do 20 repetitions and it would be easy this means you have to increase the intensity! Some ways to increase the intensity is to slow down the exercise, adding extra weight (could be as simple as holding two tins of beans!), or choose a more challenging variation.
  • It’s important that the exercises are progressive, and get more challenging over time as our body will adapt to the training and will eventually need a change in stimulus.
  • For the program to be effective for older adults the exercises should be functional and relate to some of the movement involved in our daily activities e.g. walking lunges, squats, single leg stance, overhead exercises. (Fragala et al. 2019).
  • Contact your local physio to get some expert guidance if you don’t know where or how to start.
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