For many seniors, growing older can involve the inevitable loss of strength and energy. But this doesn’t have to be the case. The frailty and loss of energy we associate with aging, like difficulty walking for distances, climbing a set of stairs, or carrying heavy groceries, are primarily due to muscle loss — this loss in muscle results mainly from a lack of activity.
One of the best ways to keep muscles strong and healthy is through strength training exercises — often referred to as weight lifting or resistance training. Studies show that strength training is one of the best ways to fight the weakness and feeling of frailty that can come with age. Strength training can build bone and muscle, helping to preserve strength, energy, and independence.
Strength training can also help you reduce the signs and symptoms of many diseases and chronic conditions in several ways:
- Arthritis – Reduces pain and stiffness, and increases strength and flexibility.
- Diabetes – Improves glycemic control.
- Osteoporosis – Builds bone density and reduces the risk of falls.
- Heart disease – Reduces cardiovascular risk by improving lipid profile and overall fitness.
- Obesity – Increases metabolism, which helps burn more calories and helps with long-term weight control.
- Back pain – Strengthens back and abdominal muscles to reduce stress on the spine.
When done with regular aerobic exercise, strength training can also significantly affect a person’s mental and emotional health. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly sleep better, sleep more deeply, and longer and awaken less often.
Getting Motivated and Setting Goals
If you want to make a lasting change in your life, it is helpful to start by thinking about what motivates you. What are the reasons for wanting to start a strength training program? What are your goals? What obstacles might slow you down, and how might you overcome them? Visualize your success, sent some clear goals, and then consider how you might celebrate your achievements.
Eliminate Possible Obstacles
While thinking about your motivations, you may want to consider possible obstacles and plan ways to overcome them. The most common barriers seem to be:
- Not Enough Time: For many being too busy is the main obstacle. How can we schedule several times each week to exercise? One suggestion is you could combine strength training with another activity or with a social visit. Schedule your sessions during a lunch-hour break or maybe a favorite television program. Instead of going out to lunch, you could exercise with a good friend or family member.
- Fatigue: It’s a fact that strength training gives you more energy; it also makes other daily activities easier. But fatigue can be a significant obstacle to keeping consistent with your workouts. Make sure you have had plenty of water and eaten before exercising. Mornings are often the best time to schedule your activities since, for many people, this is the part of the day that you have the most energy.
- Age or fitness: Maybe you feel that you’re too old or out of shape for strength training. Many seniors have successfully started strength training in their 70s and 80s, and even 90s! Just be sure that you start slowly and follow some basic safety rules.
- Health concerns: Before starting any new exercise program, you should always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. But as long as you have consulted with your doctor and start slowly, the condition probably won’t prevent you from strength training. On the contrary, often in these risk groups are the ones who gain the most from strength training.
Finding An Exercise Program for Seniors
Now that you’re motivated and ready to get started, what’s next? There are many places you can go to find the perfect plan that’s the best fit for your specific needs and goals.
- Consult your doctor: As we mentioned, before you start any strength program, please check with your doctor. They may have some suggestions on a strength program that will best fit your needs and health history.
- Find a book on Amazon or the Library: There are many excellent guides and programs available to launch your strength program. You can visit your local library or find a book online. To start, see Amazon’s list of ‘Best Sellers in Exercise & Fitness for the Aging.’
- Online Resources: There are scores of online resources that can help you get started. Especially during these times where social distancing is so critical, an online program may be ideal. While there are many options to choose from, Silver Sneakers is a leading site and worth considering. And if you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, SilverSneakers membership is included for no fee. You can check here to see if you are eligible.
Once you get started, it is essential to stick to your strength-training program as best as you can. It is common to experience a few false starts before you find success. There may be interruptions such as vacation, family obligations, or illness that gets you off track. Just try not to feel guilty or disappointed. Remember that this happens to everyone! Just get back on track as quickly as you can. Though you may not pick up exactly where you left off — you will soon regain lost ground.
Most importantly, stick with it! You will find that after a few weeks, it will become a routine. Eventually, this routine will become a habit. And before you know it, you’ll never want to miss a day! And best of all, you’ll feel healthy, strong, and empowered because of it.