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Weight Training for Seniors

written by: meagz2 • edited by: Angela Atkinson • updated: 10/27/2010

Weight training is an important activity for all ages, but seniors need it even more. With aging comes inevitable changes in our body structure and composition. This article will address two issues associated with aging which can be managed with weight training exercises.

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    Seniors Need Weight Training

    It is never too late to begin a weight training program. In fact, weight training among the senior population is extremely important. Aging is associated with a type of muscle mass loss known as sarcopenia, and bone loss, also known as osteoporosis. Weight training can slow, prevent, and even reverse sarcopenia and osteoporosis.

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    Battling Sarcopenia

    Sarcopenia begins to occur in one's 40's and muscle mass decreases about 10% per decade. This loss can be drastically slowed or reversed with proper weight training and nutrition.

    Muscle growth occurs when a great enough stimulus is present. Aside from remaining very active in daily life, weight training is the best stimulus when done properly. The level of difficulty will determine how quickly and efficiently results are seen. Typically muscle hypertrophy (growth of muscle fibers) occurs when the weight being used allows for eight to twelve repetitions to be completed with fatigue at the final repetition. Generally two to three sets of each exercise should be completed.

    Although sarcopenia is inevitable, the extent to which it is experienced can be drastically different among individuals based on activity level and weight training. Preventing this muscle mass loss can improve your quality of life significantly. When one's muscles mass has diminished, strength is also decreased. Reduced strength can cause injuries upon lifting and moving everyday objects, and can cause balance problems.

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    Combating Osteoporosis

    Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become more porous and brittle and are more susceptible to breaking. The disease threatens more than 55% of Americans over the age of 50, and women account for more than 80% of those with osteoporosis.

    Osteoporosis can be combated with weight bearing activities. An activity as simple as walking is a great start. Performing weight bearing exercises with either your own body weight or with machines and dumbbells can help to enhance bone density. Here are two exercises that can be done without equipment:

    1) Sit-to-stand: Sit on the edge of a chair with arms straight out in front Bend your legs at a 90 degree angle with feet planted firmly on the ground. Push through your heels to stand up, then slowly lower yourself back to the chair and repeat.

    2) Modified push-ups: Place hands on the edge of a counter or on the wall wider than the width of your body. Straighten your arms, and move your feet back to create a forward lean. Bend your elbows to bring your body closer to the wall or counter leading with your chest. Push with your arms to rise back up and repeat.

    Prevention of osteoporosis is important to avoid serious fractures. Remember that the spine and hips are bones that are also affected by the disease and a break to either of those areas will be extremely detrimental, if not fatal.

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    Get Started Weight Training

    It is important to get medical clearance before starting a new exercise program. Once cleared, a great way to start is to dedicate at least 2 days per week to getting in a 30-60 minute weight training workout. The two days you choose should allow for no more than 3 days off in between workouts. For example, Monday and Thursday are better than Tuesday and Thursday. If you really want to jump into a program, pick 3 non-consecutive days per week. If you have never exercised with weights, consider hiring a personal trainer to learn proper technique and exercises.

    You are born with only one body so treat it right and it will be good to you.