While retirement may seem like a great time to relax and wind down, did you know the exact opposite may be much more beneficial for you if you’re a senior? It turns out that the benefits of strength training for seniors are vast, and if you’re not including some resistance work in your workout routine, then you are certainly missing out when it comes to aging gracefully!
Importantly, strength isn't just a function of mass. It's also a function of something called "neurological patterning." In layman's terms, patterning is when the brain sends electrical signals via the nervous system to muscles to make them contract. For example, when you think about walking down the street, bending over to pick something up, or any other movement for that matter, the brain first processes the thought and figures out what muscles are needed to make the move and then sends the signal over the nerves to the particular muscles that are necessary for the movement. The muscles move (and so do you) once the signal reaches them. (See "How muscles work" for more detail.)
Squatting exercises increase hip flexibility and strengthen your hip flexors and quadriceps, which will improve both your walking ability and your ability to stand up from a seated position. It also improves your overall balance and stability, reducing your risk of falling. For the beginner's version, stand up using a chair for support, and perform a standing partial squat as demonstrated in the ElderGym video above.
There's good news that should serve as an encouragement to all of us when it comes to fitness, walking endurance, and health. In a classic study of walking and mortality in 700 men enrolled in the Honolulu Heart Program, the mortality rate among the men who walked less than one mile per day was nearly twice the rate of those who walked more than two miles per day. (Studies of women showed similar results). In another study, data collected on more than 41,000 men and women from 1990 to 2001 were analyzed to find the relationship between walking and mortality. It was reported that men and women who walked 30 minutes or more per day during the study period had fewer deaths than those who walked less than 30 minutes. Interestingly, even men and women who smoked or were overweight were protected from early death if they walked more than 30 minutes per day.
Triglycerides are a common form of fat that we digest. Triglycerides are the main ingredient in animal fats and vegetable oils. Elevated levels of triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, fatty liver disease, and pancreatitis. Elevated levels of triglycerides are also associated with diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, and medications (for example, diuretics, birth control pills, and beta blockers). Dietary changes, and medication if necessary can help lower triglyceride blood levels.
The good news here is that muscle patterning improves within days of starting a weight-lifting program, even without any increase in muscle mass. This explains the 113% increase in strength experienced by the residents of the nursing home in Boston in the previously cited study. In a different study that specifically investigated this phenomenon, 67- to 81-year-old men lifted weights for six weeks while hooked up to electrodes that measured their nerve and muscle patterning (an electromyogram machine). The results showed that the men experienced a 25% increase in the patterning of the muscle along with a 35% increase in strength, all without significant increases in size.
Participate in a senior sports league. Check out the rec center for sign ups or meet-up dates. Most community centers hold organized game play for basketball, volleyball, soccer, and flag football (men, women, and co-ed). Get a group of friends on board and enter the league or sign up individually to be placed on a team. Check for openings on existing teams; church and community groups often have teams