What are the best strength exercises for seniors? As we age, the strength in our muscles declines. Therefore, seniors need exercises that will keep their muscles strong. This will keep them from postural problems, frailness, and inability to do their day-to-day activities.
For a long time, it was commonly believed that seniors cannot engage in strength training. Research along the years has shown that this is not the case.
Strength training is a form of physical exercise that involves the use of weights or bodyweight to improve strength and endurance.
It can also be used for weight loss and can also help with improving balance and coordination.
A 2017 study showed that seniors who do strength training exercises, especially those who are physically frail, would show an increase of 6.6–37% in maximal strength, 3.4–7.5% in muscle mass, 8.2% in muscle power, 4.7–58.1% in functional capacity. This results from working out at least 1 to 6 times per week, with an average of 3 times per week.
But what are the benefits of strength training in seniors?
Benefits of Strength Training For Seniors
Reduces The Effects of Osteoporosis
Lifting weights benefits seniors when it comes to increasing muscle strength and bone density. As we age, there is a depletion of bone nutrition and production of hormones.
Especially with women in their 40s to 50s. For this reason, age-related muscle loss can be attributed to weakness and frailty.
Postmenopausal women diagnosed with osteoporosis benefit the most from strength training.
A 2013 study has shown that doing a 12-week maximal strength training (MST) program can be beneficial for postmenopausal women with osteoporosis or osteopenia.
This follows a principle called “Wolff’s Law”, wherein bones adapt according to the demands placed on them. It is frequently used in physical therapy and can be attributed to how strength exercises can benefit seniors with osteoporosis.
Increase Muscle Mass
One of the striking effects of aging is the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. This is called sarcopenia. Some studies have shown that after the age of 30, you’ll lose 3-5% of muscle mass per decade. And this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.
According to a 2011 study, strength training among the elderly not only increases their muscle strength but their muscle mass as well.
It also corresponds with the typical guidelines set out on strengthening healthy young adults. It is recommended to train at least 3-4 times a week for the best results, which will come with fewer side effects.
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Helps You Lose Weight
A study from the Wake Forest University suggested that combining weight training with a low-calorie diet promotes lean muscle mass.
Lean muscle mass means less fat on the areas that are easily seen: stomach, sidearms, hips, and thighs. The leaner your muscles become, the less room there is for fat storage.
Losing fat by strength training has shown benefits not only in the elderly but as well as in young healthy individuals after 4-6 weeks of training with a frequency of 2-3 times a week. It is important to note that seniors can start with bodyweight exercises so that they can gain control of their own body movements.
Strength exercises have positive effects on bone health. Lower limb strength is necessary for seniors to be able to walk and hold the same position for long periods of time.
If they experience issues in the hips, knees, and ankles and especially in the bones from arthritis, it can pose problems with balance which can lead to falling.
Numerous studies from the Journal of Physical Therapy Science in 2014, show the long term effects of training the lower limbs among the elderly. The studies conclude that an improvement in lower limb strength among the elderly may lead to a balance enhancement for those that are neurologically healthy.
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Risks of Strength Exercises For Seniors
- If you have recently had heart surgery (specifically coronary artery bypass graft), it is not recommended to do any strength exercises for at least 3 months post surgery. But if permitted, low impact strength training will only be applicable if your vital signs meet certain weight conditions like carrying a dumbbell or bodyweight training.
- If you have a musculoskeletal condition, like shoulder pain, neck pain, or pain in the knees from straining or tear, consult your doctor first whether resistance training is right for you. Some physical therapists do give their patients loading exercises to restore weakened muscles that resulted from injury, but it is important to consult with your doctor depending on your specific situation.
- Practice breathing exercises before doing strength training. Holding your breath during training could simulate a bodily response that can increase pressure on your thorax and abdomen that can lead to high blood pressure. It is often recommended to breathe out for each strength exercise.
- Always make sure you have supervision during strength exercises. In particular, a trainer or a physical therapist can assist you with your needs. They can provide modifications to your training that best fit your fitness level.
Strength Exercises For Seniors
Seated Pelvic Tilt
The seated pelvic tilt exercise is a modification of the lying-down version. It helps to activate the core and glutes. It helps to ease standing up and back pain and can also allow for more control of more vigorous exercises that involve the abdomen and back.
To do this exercise, sit up straight in a sturdy chair and hold your abdominals. Take a deep breath in, and then squeeze your abdominals while exhaling. Proper breathing will help you do the exercise correctly, without causing pressure on your chest and abdomen. Hold for about 5 seconds, and then relax. Do a total of 10 reps.
Find out more about sitting exercises for older adults here.
Tricep and Bicep Curls
These are specific exercises that target the muscle strength in the arms and shoulders. Working out those specific muscle groups with weights or with your body weight can strengthen both the biceps and triceps.
Strengthening these muscles can help with daily activities such as reaching for items on higher shelves or transferring objects from one shelf to another. As well as daily hygienic routines, and putting on clothing.
To do bicep curls, place your hands on each side of your hips. You can use a small dumbbell, wrist weights or any kind of household object that will add some force.
With your elbows rested on each side, slowly lift your forearms up to your shoulders, make sure your elbows are bend. Hold that position at least for a second and then squeeze your muscle and then reverse the curl slowly and then repeat 10 times.
To do the triceps curls, raise your arms straight up to your ears. Keep this position and slowly fold your elbows backwards until you reach your upper back. You can use a dumbbell, wrist weights or a ball to add some weight.
Do this exercise slowly, and keep your arms straight and near the head. Do this about 10 times.
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As mentioned above, studies have shown that strengthening the lower limbs improves balance and bone health. It is also an important exercise that is used for all age groups. Squats not only improve strength in the lower limbs but also the glutes. Stronger glutes help with better posture and can defeat back pain.
To do this exercise, stand straight in front of a sturdy chair which you can use for balance and guidance. Your feet should shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing straight ahead.
Begin to bend your knees until you feel the weight of your upper body on your ankles or can’t see your toes. Make sure to keep your head and chest raised. Gently tap the chair with your butt and stay in this position for about 10 seconds and then slowly stand up.
Knee lifts are another lower limb strengthening exercise that can strengthen your quads and can improve balance. You can start out by climbing stairs or it can also be done sitting or standing. If standing without support for balance is difficult, use a piece of furniture that is sturdy like a chair or sofa.
To do this exercise, stand straight, lift one of your knees to hip level, and then alternate knees. Make a goal of 10 lifts, 10 for each knee. If you want more of a challenge in your exercise, use a ball to meet one raised knee and raise your arms overhead and then lower the ball to meet the other knee.
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