Many senior citizens wouldn’t even consider lifting weights or performing strength training exercises, thinking that’s something for much younger, fitter people to do.
A person is never too old to perform strength training exercises, though. In fact, frequent exercise is the best prescription for independent, active and healthy aging, according to the A.A.R.P., the National Institute on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Studies show that all adults, even seniors, can benefit from as little as 15 minutes a day of moderate cardio exercise. Thirty minutes a day of light to moderate cardio exercise is the optimum level, and the good news is the cardio exercises can be broken up into segments (ie: brisk walk in morning, afternoon swim).
Adults, including seniors, are also recommended to perform strength training exercises two-three times per week.
Although exercise programs for seniors (generally considered people age 50-60 and older) are modified considerably from what younger generations are doing in the gym, senior strength training can help people of any age increase muscle strength, strengthen bones, fight off and-or delay the effects of arthritis, and improve balance and mobility. Regular exercise is also important to help maintain strong heart function and a healthy weight.
Jim Androsik, a physical therapist for Wooster Commuinty Hospital’s HealthPoint Health and Wellness Center in Ohio, has witnessed great benefits from the seniors he’s worked with who have followed a strength and conditioning program.
“Generally, the senior citizens we work with are people 60 years-old and up who are referred to us by a physician,” Androsik said. “Doctors give us some guidelines, such as the frequency and duration a person should exercise for and comments on their health in general.
“We then develop a program for them.”
Exercise programs for seniors can obviously vary greatly depending on age and health, but typically there are basic guidelines Androsik has his seniors follow.
“We generally recommend that a senior perform strength training exercises two to three times a week,” he said. “We look at their needs to determine exactly what exercises they’ll do, such as if they’re experiencing back pain, shoulder pain, arthritis, etc.”
Here’s a basic exercise program for seniors based on Androsik’s advice and other research I’ve conducted. Again, these are general recommendations and seniors should consult with a physician before beginning an exercise program. It would also be highly beneficial for seniors to exercise as part of a group or class, to help with motivation, to make sure they’re using the right techniques and, of course, to enjoy the social aspect of exercising):
Cardio exercise (3-4 times per week)
Tip: Perform low-impact exercises that are easy on your joints. Start very slowly before increasing duration and resistance. Start with 5 minute cardio workouts and slowly progress to 15 minutes or more if you can.
Pick from the following: Treadmill, walk on track, exercise bike, pool workout, yard work, etc.
Weight lifting/strength training (2-3 times per week) Tip: Androsik says it’s important to do high repetitions on exercises with low resistance or weights. Do light stretches before performing strength training exercises. Here’s a sample strength training program a senior might perform:
* Good mornings 1 x 15 (one set of 15 reps) tip: stand straight, slowly bend down to touch toes or reach down as far as comfortable, rise back up and repeat.
* Shoulder rotations 1 x 15 tip: stand straight with arms out parallel to side, rotate shoulders 15 times in each direction. Good warmup exercise.
* Sit Ups – 1 x 15
* Side Bends – 1 x 15
* Squats – 1 x 12-15 tip: Use barbell, machine or without weights. Keep back straight by looking straight ahead at spot on wall, go down as tolerated but no lower than parallel with knees.
* Lunge – 1 x 12-15 tip: hold dumbbells to make harder
* Calf Raise – 1 x 12-15 tip: hold dumbbells to make harder or use machine.
* One Arm Rows – 1 x 12 – 15 tip: balance one knee on bench, other leg on floor. Pull dumbbell up and down with arm on side of body planted on floor. Builds shoulder strength.
* Rotator cuff with band or machine – 1 x 12-15 internal rotation, 1 x 12-15 external rotation. tip: have a doctor or trainer show you how to do these, great for preventing shoulder pain.
* Dumbbell curl – 1 x 12 – 15 tip: do them seated or standing
* Dumbbell bench press – 1 x 12 – 15 tip: do them lying on a bench
* Dumbbell flyes – 1 x 12 – 15 tip: do them lying on a bench
* Triceps extension – 1 x 12 – 15 tip: use machine or dumbbell. This is just a general plan to give seniors some ideas, but it’s best to work with a trainer. Tweak as needed. Remember to use light weights and do high reps.
“Exercise can provide lifelong benefits,” Androsik said. “It can minimize or slow down arthritic changes.”
Basically, exercise can delay the aging process to a large degree in many people and if seniors find a program they enjoy it can actually be fun. What are you waiting for seniors – get back into the gym!