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Why Weight Training Exercises Are a Great Workout for Seniors

A senior woman works out with pink free weights

When it comes to ideas for staying fit, weight training for seniors might not be first on your list. However, incorporating weight training into your exercise program not only helps you get stronger, but it has several other health benefits, no matter your age. 

Why consider weight training exercises for seniors?

Sarcopenia is a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. People tend to start losing muscle mass as early as their 30s at a rate of about 5% per decade. If nothing is done to combat it, it’s possible to lose as much as half your muscle mass by the time you’re in your 70s. That matters because sarcopenia is a key cause of functional decline and loss of independence. It negatively impacts your ability to carry out daily tasks, and it’s associated with chronic diseases, fatigue, falls and worsening insulin resistance. In the journal Family Practice, Dr. John E. Morley, geriatrician at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, wrote, “Sarcopenia can be considered for muscle what osteoporosis is to bone.”What contributes to age-related muscle mass loss? A decline in physical activity is a big factor, but hormonal changes, poor nutrition, body-wide inflammation and chronic illness can also lead to sarcopenia. But the good news is, no matter what your age, you can reverse some of that loss and improve your health by adding weight training to your exercise program.  

Benefits of basic weight training routines for seniors.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends weight training for everyone over age 50. Here are a few reasons why:

Protecting your heart. A 2019 study found adults who did at least an hour per week of weight training reduced their risk of heart attack or stroke 40% to 70% when compared to those who didn’t exercise. Another study found those who did weight training had less fat around their hearts, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Making daily tasks easier. When your body is stronger, you can do more. A study at the University of Alabama found that healthy women ages 60 to 77 could carry groceries and get up from a chair with much less effort after just four months of weightlifting three hours a week.

Preventing broken bones. Weight training builds bone mass in the hips and spine, and it also increases strength, balance and agility. This means your bones can become stronger and you’ll be less likely to fall and break or fracture something. So weight training can be especially good exercise for osteoporosis.

Improving walking ability. Weight training can improve leg strength and endurance. A University of Vermont study found that after 12 weeks of weight training, healthy seniors could walk almost 40% farther without a rest.

Relieving arthritis pain. Because lifting weights strengthens the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your joints, it can improve your range of motion and ease stress on the joints, thereby reducing pain.

Promoting weight loss. Weightlifting boosts your metabolism, so when you combine it with a healthy diet, you could start losing unwanted pounds. 

Weight training exercises for seniors.

Before you start pumping iron, make sure you follow these three steps.

1. Talk with your doctor before you start. Find out if you have any underlying health conditions that might impact your ability to start weight training. For example, if you have hypertension, your doctor may want to do some tests to make sure exercise won’t cause a dangerous spike in your blood pressure.

2. Choose your setting and equipment. If you have access to a local gym with weightlifting equipment, that can be a good place to start. You can also do it yourself at home with hand weights, cans of food or milk jugs. If choosing hand weights, start with a lower weight and work your way up. You can also use resistance bands and bodyweight exercises to improve your strength.

3. Learn the proper techniques. It’s critical that you learn the right way to do any new exercise. Jumping right in without knowing how to safely do any exercise runs the risk of muscle pulls, damaged tendons, falls and more. Talk with a fitness trainer if at all possible. If you decide to follow along with a video exercise program, take your time to make sure you’re using the fitness equipment, holding the hand weights and moving your body correctly. 

Strength training with weights.

Weightlifting exercises should be challenging to your body, but not stress it. Start with a weight you can manage comfortably for eight repetitions.

  • Take three seconds to lift the weight, breathing in as you do so. Hold the weight for one second.
  • Then take three seconds to lower it, breathing in as you do.
  • Once you can do that easily eight times in a row, work your way up to 15 repetitions.
  • When you can do 15 reps easily, add a pound of weight.
  • Take a day off between sessions for each muscle group. Or you can exercise your upper body one day and your lower body the next.

Getting stronger with resistance bands.

Resistance bands help strengthen muscles and your core, which improves balance, posture and mobility. You can add them to your exercise routine to do both upper and lower body exercises such as leg lifts, triceps presses, bicep curls, and this lateral raise:

  • While standing, step on the middle of the resistance band, keeping both feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold both ends of your band.
  • Raise both arms out to the side up to shoulder height.
  • Return to your starting position.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Using just your body.

You can use your own body weight to work out and strengthen your muscles. It lets you work on several muscle groups at a time. Chair squats and wall push-ups are just two simple exercises to try – you can find more body weight exercises here. Choose two or three of them to get started.No matter how you approach it, building your muscle mass back up through weight training improves your body, boosts your mood, and makes your quality of life better. So why not get started?

A community that will keep you active

Looking for a senior living community in Jacksonville that will help keep you strong and active? At Cypress Village, you can keep your body moving by taking part in our fitness and wellness programs and working out in our fully equipped Fitness Center. Learn more about living at our community.