Strength training essential for seniors

Published 11:34 am Monday, February 27, 2006

By Staff
This week I was a guest speaker at the 12th Annual FitFest Program. I chose the topic of &#8220Strength Training for Seniors”. Two weekends ago, the Brewton Area YMCA sent me to Atlanta to attend a conference on &#8220Midlife Fitness for Women” and &#8220Injury Progression Prevention.”  These workshops are a far cry from the &#8220Turbo Kick” and &#8220Combat Fitness” of years past.
Most older adults, even highly active ones, skip strength training.  Strength training, also called resistance training, is exercise that requires muscles to move against a weight or resistance.  Muscles become stronger as a result.  You don't have to be a fitness guru like Jack LaLanne to benefit from strength training-and never say you're too old to work those muscles.
Strength training is just what older bodies, even the very old or frail ones, need to fight the loss of muscle mass and strength. In fact, strength training is THE most important exercise for older adults who aren't fit, and that it should come before aerobic activity, no afterward, as is typically the case.
Before one can walk, it is necessary to be able to get out of a chair (requiring muscle power) and maintain an erect posture while moving through space (requiring balance).  Time for Grandma to put down her knitting needles and pick up some barbells.  
Although I don't see to many seniors walking down the beach, kicking sand in the faces of skinny teenagers, many seniors are enjoying stronger muscles, firmer bones and an improved quality of life because they spent time daily performing simple exercises.  
Strength workouts are structured according to repetitions and sets.  Lifting the weight one time is called a repetition.  A set is a group of repetitions performed without stopping.  Strength-training guidelines consist of a list of specific exercises; each exercise is performed for a prescribed number of repetitions for one or more sets.  
The purpose of each set is work the muscles to fatigue. This means the last repetition you can perform with PROPER form and without excessive strain.  The number of repetitions it takes to reach the point of fatigue will depend on the goals of the program and the strength level of the individual.  A beginner would usually choose a weight that works the muscles to fatigue in 12-15 repetitions.  Lifting the weight more than 15 times means you should increase the weight.
In the same way that taking a once-a-day vitamin is beneficial, lifting weights provides multiple benefits. Here are the top reasons to get started on a trength training program:
1. To build muscle strength.
Adults lose between five and seven pounds of muscle every decade after age 20.  Only strength training prevents muscle loss.
2. To improve functional strength and flexibility.
This is important because it can help keep you safe in your daily activities and make you less vulnerable to falls or other injuries.
3. To increase bone mass and density.
Weight-bearing and resistance exercises can help protect against osteoporosis, a disease in which bones became fragile and more likely to break.
4. To lower body fat.  
Research in strength training has demonstrated a four-pound fat loss after three months of training, even though study participants increased their daily intake by 15 percent.
5. To reduce resting blood pressure.  
Strength training reduces resting blood pressure.
6. To reduce low back pain.
7. To reduce the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  
Sensible strength training can reduce the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
8. To reduce symptoms of other chronic diseases.
Strength training can help to reduce the symptoms of depression, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and sleep disorders.
9. To enhance your personal appearance.  
Improving your strength and your physique can also be a plus for your self-confidence and self-esteem.
10. To improve your golf game.  
You heard me, golf game.  Now I finally have the attention of the men in the audience.  Believe it or not, strength training can improve golf-performance by increasing club head speed and driving power.  
It can also help other physical activation such as tennis and cycling.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two or three days a week of strength training.  
As with any fitness program, be sure to talk to your doctor before getting started.  
Current and new members of the Brewton Area YMCA are encouraged and entitled to a free consultation with a fitness specialist to design and demonstrate good form and progression.  Call 867-9622 to set up your appointment today.  And stay with it!
Janet Peterman is a personal trainer at the Brewton YMCA. She can be reached at 867-9622 (YMCA).

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