When we reach our senior years, the last thing most of us picture ourselves doing is strength training by ‘pumping iron’. However, we might just have to revise our image of ourselves, because the truth is that anyone can benefit from strength training at any age. In fact, strength training is ideal for any woman nearing menopause, and/or any person who might have osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis results from wear and tear on the joints as we age. However, strong muscles can increase stability in our joints and reduce the risk of injury.
Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones as we age. It most commonly affects women, but men can get it too. Like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis can lead to a range of mobility issues, leading to pain, stiffness, and instability that can cause a trip or fall. Those with thinning bones are much more likely to experience a fracture if they fall than a person who has been doing strength training and weight bearing exercise to build healthy bone.
Rheumatoid arthritis is also quite common among women over 40 as compared with men. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself, leading to gnarled and twisted joints if the person with RA does not exercise. Contrary to popular belief, light weights and other methods of strength training can actually reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis, keeping you mobile well into your senior years.
As with any new form of exercise or sport, it is important to put safety first by discussing with your doctor any health issues you may have. Let them know you are thinking about strength training, and what your goals are. Do you want to build bone? Improve your joint health? Perhaps you want to target one of your trouble spots like sagging skin on your upper arms or building a solid core to support your back and all the other muscle groups in your body. Once you set your goal, then you can decide on the equipment best suited to helping you achieve your goal.
Strength training is a great way to work out because contrary to popular belief, you do not need an expensive gym membership or lots of fancy equipment. You can start any time with some cans of food or bottles of liquid from your pantry, as long as you pay attention to safety first and do not try to do too much in your first work out session.
Then there are hand weights, commonly referred to as dumbbells, wrist and ankle weights, and resistance bands. Resistance bands are like larger rubber bands and are designed in such a way as to offer several pounds of resistance to your muscles, such as 4 pounds, in the same way that a 4 pound dumbbell would.
In terms of whole body exercises, yoga, tai chi, and low impact calisthenics can also be part of a safe and sensible strength training program for seniors. Set your goals, learn the essentials about each kind of workout you are interested in, and see what a difference it can make to your strength, stability and mobility.