Strength Training for Old Persons

By Dr. Pran Rangan

On an average, we lose 5 percent of our muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 35, if we don't do anything about it. Loss of muscle mass is also known as sarcopenia.

The precise causes of sarcopenia aren't fully understood. Lack of exercise, poor nutrition, hormonal changes, and general inflammation are all potential causes. Some of those causes can be addressed but there may simply be some inherent consequences of aging that can't be fully remedied.

Sarcopenia often isn't noticed until it is too late, when we slip and fall or begin having difficulty getting out of chair. The loss in muscle mass affects maintaining the functional movement abilities that help older people maintain independence.

By engaging in regular resistance training and following a sound diet that includes adequate amounts of protein, we can prevent most of the muscle loss associated with age. Although we may not be able to turn back the clock, we can slow down loss of muscle.

Strength training:

Strength training is a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of free weights, machines, or the person's own body weight. Strength training sessions are designed to impose increasingly greater resistance, which in turn stimulates development of muscle strength to meet the added demand.

Training schedule for seniors:

Weight training should be started with light weights, using a level that is comfortable to lift at the start of training and increasing repetitions and poundage as the muscles get stronger.

Most experts unanimously agree to the following training schedule:

Frequency: Two or more days a week

Intensity: Older adults should begin a resistance training program with light intensity i.e., 40%-50% of one repetition maximum or 1-RM. The intensity can gradually be built up depending on individual progress. Moderate intensity is 60%-70% of one repetition maximum or 1-RM. When 1-RM is not measured, intensity can be prescribed as - light (1-5), moderate (5-6) and vigorous (7-10) intensity on a scale of 0-10.

Type: Progressive weight training program incorporating 8-10 exercises involving the major muscle groups with 1 set of 10-15 repetitions each. Stair climbing and other strengthening activities that use the major muscle groups can also be added.

A small amount of weight increased at regular intervals will increase muscle mass and affect metabolism, bone density, decrease insulin resistance and even aid in better sleep patterns.

Elders should make sure to include sufficient core exercises to improve balance and stability, which will reduce the risk of falls.

Safety tips:

The following are some important tips for a program of strength training:

1. Warm up at least 10 minutes before exercise and cool down for at least 10 minutes after exercise.

2. Maintain a good form of posture during all exercises.

3. Don't hold breath while exercising, making sure to breathe on the exertion part of the exercise

4. Don't grip the weights tightly

5. All movements should be done consciously in a slow to moderate speed.

6. Some soreness in the muscle can be expected but stop the exercise if you feel pain in the joints.

7. One should be able to complete 2 sets of 10 repetitions in good form before increasing weights.

8. It is possible to strength train daily by alternating major muscle groups. For example one may work your legs on Monday and arms on Tuesday.

The bottom line:

Numerous studies have shown that strength training done regularly by elderly persons not only builds up bone and muscle but also counteracts the weakness and frailty that usually comes with aging. So, it is of utmost value for seniors and old persons to add some strength training to their exercise program.

It is a well known fact that we lose muscle at the rate of 5% every 10 years, resulting in frailty and difficulty in performing day-to-day activities that keeps on increasing as the age advances more.

The most effective way to prevent or decrease the loss of muscle mass and strength in elderly people is strength training, if it is done regularly in good form with proper intensity. As the longevity of people is increasing all over the world, it becomes important that older person maintain their physical and mental independence, for which a regular schedule of exercise is of utmost value. By adding strength training to their schedule, they can doubly benefit.

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