The benefits of strength training for older adults

Everyone wants to enjoy a healthy, active and long life. Getting older means that the need for exercise becomes even more important. General daily activities like walking or taking the stairs are not sufficient stimulus for your body to combat the effects of ageing.

The loss of bone density, muscle mass, postural control and coordination and reduced elasticity in muscles and other soft tissues means that ‘resistance’ or weight training types of exercise are specifically considered very important as we age.

Clinical weight training with a physiotherapist isn’t about going to the gym to lift heavy weights and bodybuild.

It’s a programme of strength and conditioning training specifically written for you by a physio who understands the changes occurring in your body and is able to adapt and break down movements so they are safe, effective and targeted.

For example, if you sometimes have difficulty getting up from sitting, you’ll focus on exercises which strengthen your thigh and buttock muscles, increase mobility in your hips, knees and ankles and improve balance.

Improving balance and preventing falls

Feeling unsteady on your feet can really affect your confidence, even if you haven’t actually experienced a fall yourself. Lots of older adults worry that their balance has deteriorated and may feel anxious faced with an uneven or slippery pavement, a high curb or a steep flight of stairs.

Muscle weakness is a contributing factor, so building strength will help, but just being strong won’t necessarily prevent falls. Other systems in your body must also function well and be responsive to help you maintain balance.

A ‘multisensory’ approach to weight training is far more effective. This essentially means practising weight or resistance training in a position or on a surface which requires postural control and balance, to maximise improvements and efficiency in all the systems that contribute to balance.

A simple example of this might be working with small hand weights while standing on a balance pad.

Increase bone density to prevent osteoporosis and osteopenia

The mechanical load of resistance training stimulates your skeleton to increase both bone mass and density in a way which aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming simply doesn’t produce.

A carefully structured and progressive programme of resistance exercises, two or three times per week, is highly recommended because it’s been shown to be highly effective.

Some exercises might not be recommended if you have issues with bone density, for example sit ups. So working with an experienced professional, such as a physiotherapist, is one of the safest ways of weight training, especially if you have a pre-existing condition like osteoporosis.

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