The story of early reasearch into strength training for seniors is fascinating! Researchers from Tufts University studied the effects of high-intensity strength training on a small group of nursing home residents who were 86 to 96 years old. All of them had at least two medical conditions common in this age group.
This was at a time when the prevailing wisdom was to provide seniors with relatively easy exercise in order to avoid stressing them too much and causing physical harm. But these seniors were exercising their muscles at 80% capacity on standard gym equipment! To the amazement of all concerned with this study, none of the participating seniors suffered any ill-effects and, in fact, all of them improved in very important ways – stronger muscles, faster walking speeds, better balance, and more active life-styles.
Since that time, many different studies have confirmed the benefits of strength training for adults of any age. In the book Strong Women Stay Young, you can see pictures of CAT scans showing a cross section of the thigh muscle in a young person, a sedentary midlife person, and a senior. You can see how well developed the muscle is in a young person. The thigh muscle of the sedentary midlife person was smaller, showing the normal process of muscle and strength loss with aging (called sarcopenia). The thigh muscle of the senior who had been strength-training was comparable to that of the younger person, demonstrating that, in men and women, muscles can become stronger at any age!
One of the great benefits of becoming stronger is the ability to move through your activities with greater ease and balance. Strength training can put a spring back into your step! For women concerned about looking “muscle bound”, be reassured. Stronger muscles increase metabolism and help to decrease the fat layer around the muscle. You begin to look lean and toned!
Thanks to this modern computer age, you can begin a strength-training program right now in the comfort of your home and the price is FREE! Here are some options:
- The online Growing Stronger program from CDC and Tufts University. The entire program is explained online.
- The online Go4Life program from the National Institute on Aging. The entire program is explained online.
- The downloadable book Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults.
- The Silver Sneakers Program. This program does require you to go out to a participating gym, but as some insurance programs pay for a gym membership that includes Silver Sneakers, it may be free of charge.
However, many people have difficulty performing an exercise program alone, especially when just beginning. For this reason, Cindy Newton, PT is now offering strength-training classes for seniors. The classes are limited in number for individual attention. Progressive levels of resistance promote development of muscle strength. Strengthening exercises are followed by exercises for flexibility and relaxation. Contact us for the current schedule.
Before you leave this page, please read these inspiring words from David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., the 1998-2002 United States Surgeon General:
Each year, we learn more about the tremendous health benefits of staying physically active and being properly nourished throughout our lives. The work of scientists, health professionals, and older adult volunteers has greatly increased our knowledge about the aging process and how we can maintain strength, dignity, and independence as we age.
Essential to staying strong and vital during older adulthood is participation in regular strengthening exercises, which help to prevent osteoporosis and frailty by stimulating the growth of muscle and bone. Feeling physically strong also promotes mental and emotional health. Strength training exercises are easy to learn, and have been proven safe and effective through years of thorough research.
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tufts University, with the help of older adults, have created this book, Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults, to help you become stronger and maintain your health and independence. I encourage you to read it carefully and begin using this strength training program as soon as possible. It can make a profound difference in your physical, mental, and emotional health.
Let us aim, as a nation, to Grow Stronger together. To your health—
David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Center for Primary Care
Morehouse School of Medicine
United States Surgeon General, 1998-2002