Resistance Training for Seniors
The health benefits of daily exercise are widely known, but seniors facing health and mobility issues may feel working out is beyond their abilities. Sixty-three percent of people 60 and older don’t engage in daily exercise, according to the National Council on Aging’s The United States of Aging Survey.
But resistance training can help seniors who fear falling or damaging aging muscles and bones while exercising. For seniors with health issues that might make strenuous exercise difficult, resistance training can be an accessible, healthful option that provides both physical and mental benefits, a new study indicates.
“Resistance training – also called strength training – is an especially safe, valuable mode of exercise for seniors,” says Dr. Kevin O’Neil, chief medical officer for Brookdale Senior Living. “As you age, you lose muscle mass, bone density, strength, balance, coordination and flexibility – all of which can result in higher risk of falls and increased difficulty in performing daily tasks. Resistance training allows seniors to exercise in their own home. They can use items found in their house and they can even exercise while sitting down.” (We are pleased and grateful that several Brookdale communities utilize the Stronger Seniors Chair Exercise Program.)
As the name implies, resistance training relies on the use of resistance to build muscle strength. Slow, measured movements are easier and more stable for seniors to perform than the strenuous activity of many types of aerobic exercise. “Smooth, controlled movement gives seniors the benefits of the specific exercise with less risk of injuries or falls,” says Nicholas Swanner, a licensed physical therapist, geriatric clinical specialist and healthcare services manager for Brookdale’s healthcare services division.
Before starting any kind of exercise program, seniors should talk to their doctors. Once they have the go-ahead to begin resistance training, many forms can be beneficial to seniors, Swanner says.
“Resistance training can include using resistance bands, lifting weights or objects around your home, or using exercise equipment. Some of the exercises included in aquatics, Pilates, tai chi and yoga are types of resistance training, and those activities have the added bonus of social interaction when done in groups,” he says. “Seniors can benefit from any type of resistance training as long as it’s done safely and is part of a regular routine. Pushing up and down from a chair, opening and closing a door, lifting a can of soup or a 1-pound weight are all types of resistance exercises that seniors can easily do in their own homes.”
Swanner recommends that seniors start slow with lower-resistance exercises and listen to their bodies. “As you age, your body changes and this will impact how and what types of exercises you will be able to do safely. There are many ways to modify exercises, routines and individual styles of training to fit a senior’s specific needs.”
Resistance training offers many benefits for seniors, including improved strength, balance, coordination and posture, better bone density, plus lower risks of heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and other chronic illnesses, as well as improved cognitive function and mood. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association also found that resistance training can positively affect cognitive abilities of seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Engaging in exercise for 150 minutes a week can allow seniors to maximize the health benefits. Seniors can exercise in one 30-minute session three or four days a week if they’re able, or if that intensity is too strenuous, they can break their workouts into 10-minute intervals throughout the week and still reap the benefits.
“We always tell our seniors, ‘start low and go slow’ when they’re beginning an exercise program,” O’Neil says. “Just 10 minutes a day provides health benefits and can feel much more achievable for seniors. Exercise duration can then be increased as endurance improves.”
Resistance exercises should be done two to three days per week for each muscle group with a day of rest in between. This does not mean that other types of exercise, such as aerobic or flexibility exercises, should not be done on rest days. People who exercise daily might do resistance exercises for the upper body on one day and for the lower body on the next day.
“Even if a senior has mobility or health issues that hinder aerobic exercise, he or she can still do resistance training,” Swanner says. “Talk to your physician and physical therapist to design a program that’s right for you.”