In every stage of life, and at all ages, exercise is proven to be beneficial, but some seniors may not feel comfortable with traditional strength training. To learn how readers can safely boost their strength, fitness, and health, Bottom Line Health reached out to Sharlyn Green, a national trainer with Tivity Health, the company that developed the Silver Sneakers program. Silver Sneakers is a health and fitness program designed for people ages 65 and older that’s included with many Medicare plans.
BLH: Why should people start or keep exercising after age 65?
Some of the symptoms of “old age” are not actually the result of aging. They are the result of inactivity. The benefits of regular exercise, including strength training, go beyond just making muscles stronger. Those who exercise on a consistent basis may find they experience better sleep, improved brain function, and enhanced mood. Even though it seems counterintuitive, regular exercise can give you energy, and it increases your confidence level. Even if you start a workout routine later in life, the benefits to your brain and body are great.
BLH: How does strength training improve the ability to live independently?
Besides making you stronger and improving bone density, strength training can support your joints, helping to improve mobility and even easing arthritis pain. Building strength improves your body’s ability to do your daily tasks, and building and maintaining lower body and core strength decreases the risk for falls. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, boost your memory, and decrease the risk for some diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can help you stay independent and able to keep doing the things you enjoy.
BLH: Can we still build muscle after age 65?
Yes! As we age, both men and women begin to lose muscle mass at the rate of about 3 to 5 percent every decade after 30. The good news is that you can build both muscle mass and bone density with a well-rounded strength training routine.
Focused strength training is one of the best ways to reverse the loss of muscle mass and to build muscle. Effective strength training can include a variety of options: body-weight exercises, such as squats and push-up variations; group exercise classes such as yoga or mat Pilates; weight training with barbells, hand weights, or strength-training machines at the gym; and resistance training with tools like elastic tubing.
Functional body weight exercises—like squats, lunges, and pushups—are very effective for building total body strength because they are multi-joint movements that work larger groups of muscles.
BLH: What are some strength-building exercises for people who may feel intimidated by the idea of weight lifting?
These three strength-focused exercises are a great place to start your strength-training journey. Make sure to pay attention to how you feel and progress to a more difficult option once you can complete the more basic exercise with perfect form.
Chair Squat or Sit to Stand. Standing up from a seated position is something most of us do multiple times each day. We can build lower body strength and core strength, protecting our joints and maintaining mobility, if we pay attention to form and alignment.
How to perform a chair-based squat. Sit in a chair and scoot forward, making sure your knees are directly over your feet and your feet are about hip-distance apart. Press down on the four corners of the chair to stabilize, and engage your core by drawing your belly button in. Sit up, lengthening your spine, and hinge forward slightly at the hips, allowing your upper body to begin to shift forward while keeping your chest up and your gaze forward. You can support your back by placing your hands on your thighs, progressing to rising from the chair without support.
Adding hand-weights creates more challenge. Make sure to maintain proper form and neutral postural alignment while pressing up to a standing position and while you descend back into the chair. This movement can also start from a standing position, right in front of the chair, moving into a mini squat and progressing until you come to a completely seated position. Squats can be combined with upper body movements, such as biceps curls and front raises or lateral raises, which target shoulder muscles, for more upper body challenge.
Farmer’s Walk. Walking is something we do every day. A Farmer’s Walk adds resistance, training your lower body, upper body, and stabilizing core muscles.
Find a place where you have room to walk. Choose weights that are manageable, not too heavy, to begin this exercise. Starting at a neutral stance, with eyes forward and a tall spine, hold the weights next to your hips. Brace your core before you begin to walk at a slow and steady pace. Keep your chest lifted as though there is a string lifting the sternum up gently toward the ceiling, and find a tall, neutral spine. Be careful to stop completely before turning carefully to return to your starting point. Start with 30 seconds to five minutes, depending on your ability level. You can progress with heavier weights, or increase your time performing the Farmer’s Walk, as you feel stronger.
Tree Pose. Not only does this yoga pose help build balance and confidence, but it also builds lower body and core strength.
Standing by your chair or countertop, find a focal point straight ahead. Gently engage your abdominals and adjust your posture until you feel tall and aligned. Shift your weight toward your right foot as you lift your left heel, noticing the balance challenge. Keep the knee on your standing leg slightly bent, not allowing it to lock. Open the hip by opening your left knee toward the left side, engaging your gluteal muscles in the back of your hip.
You can kickstand the left heel above your right ankle or place the sole of the left foot on your right calf for more balance challenge. Try adjusting your hold on the chair or countertop until you feel challenged, but in control and safe. Eventually, you can try lifting one or both arms up like the branches of a tree.
Start low and slow
One key to a safe and effective strength-training routine is to start with lower resistance, progressing slowly as you get stronger. Don’t jump right in and overdo it with heavy weights or high repetitions. This can lead to soreness and injury. It’s important to train with proper form and alignment so you don’t reinforce poor posture and movement patterns that can create pain.
Make sure to work with a trainer or instructor who has the proper training to keep you moving in the right direction for years to come. When starting a new exercise program, especially if you’re new to exercise, if you haven’t exercised in a while, or if your health status has changed, consult your health-care provider for advice on how to get into the swing of things safely so you can reap the most benefits from your efforts.
Finding a regular exercise program that you enjoy will help keep you motivated and consistent. At SilverSneaker.com, you’ll find a variety of exercise classes, including classes that focus on strength training. In fact, we have over 110 live virtual classes each week that can help keep you healthy strong and connected. You can check your eligibility at https://tools.silversneakers.com/Eligibility/CheckEligibility.