Readers have asked about exercise for those who are 55+, and so we have researched the field and offer you the following article. You’ll notice that it stresses resistance training and that our expert from last month’s article, Skilly, suggested the same for beginning an exercise program. With many exercise physiologists recommending the same thing, perhaps we’re on to something, so please read on.
Many things affect a person’s attitude about aging. Of course any chronic illness like diabetes or cardiovascular disease will play a role, but there are strategies for exercise that can be designed no matter what age or physical condition, at least that’s what the experts tell us. The importance of exercise can’t be understated as Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle, is the central problem that we deal with as we age. Study after study has demonstrated that the single most important thing a person can do to slow down or even reverse aging is to exercise.
Daily exercise is not as hard to accomplish as you may think. If a 30 minute walk is too long, try three 10 minute walks. If you go to the store, park far away from the entrance so that you need to walk. For some people, it may be just getting up to change the TV rather than using the remote, for others it’s serving themselves rather than having others wait on them that is the first step to daily exercise. The more steps you take each day, the more days you will have ahead of you to enjoy.
Why exercise? The most important reason is to preserve the ability to care for yourself. This includes getting dressed, shopping, cooking, taking care of personal needs, and climbing steps. As we age and muscle strength declines, these tasks become more difficult. Loss of muscle mass and strength are the primary factors in the aging process.
OK, so what do the people who know suggest to keep us up and around for many years? First they suggest a visit to your doctor for clearance to begin a program. Then you need to look at the various types of exercise available to you. There are stretching, aerobics, cardiovascular, Yoga, team and individual sports and more, all of which have value, but to get the most bang for your buck, first consider progressive resistance training. Remember that the basis for progressing in any exercise program is muscle strength, so even for just plain walking this should be our emphasis. People report that as they age they walk slower, and the single most important factor in the rate at which we walk is muscle strength. Are you a believer yet? Read on.
Resistance training will increase a person’s cardiac capacity and have a positive effect on blood pressure and heart rate. It is the resistance to the forces of gravity by using weights, machines, elastic bands, or even cans of food, which will begin to increase muscle mass. It is the increase of repetitions of this resistance that continues to rebuild muscle. This progression will increase lean muscle tissue and muscular endurance, both essential for everyday functioning. How much weight should you lift? The most popular rule is to lift a weight that will tire you out in ten repetitions. If you can lift your weight 20 or 25 times, then it’s too light. It’s time to move up to the next level because the primary goal here is to increase strength and muscle tissue, so it’s important to up the ante as you become stronger. This is true for elastic bands also. Many come in different colors with different resistance levels. You can even add light weights when you go for your walk, thus exercising more of your body and increasing muscle tissue.
Through resistance training, blood pressure is reduced, stamina is increased, and a person’s balance is improved. In addition, for many postmenopausal women, bone density is increased from resistance training. Falling down is common in older people. Often a fall results in bone breakage and the end of an active ambulatory life. These falls can be caused by dizziness, loss of balance, reduced bone density, and weakened muscles. Resistance training improves each of these areas, making falling less frequent and less serious.
Regular exercise causes an increase in the basal metabolic rate–BMR ( rate at which food is utilized by the body). Aerobic exercise produces an increase in this rate for many hours after the exercise is complete, while resistance training, which increases lean body mass, will permanently effect BMR, This enables food to be more utilized, and not merely to be stored as fat. Persons who exercise regularly often find themselves eating more and weighing less. Others will find that their diet does not change, but that their proportions alter since fat takes up more room than muscle.
Unless a person has been an active runner, older people should not take on running or jogging. The additional stresses placed upon joints far outweigh the value gained from running. For many older people, connective tissue is not very elastic. Orthopedic injuries are common among runners of all ages. Forms of exercise other than running are preferable for the person 55 and older.
It is recommended that seniors have a complete physical exam before starting any exercise program. They should follow the basic training by the American College of Sports Medicine for strength training. Seniors have trained in this manner with excellent strength results, high compliance, and essentially no injuries. The basic stimulus for strength development is progressive resistance. That is, gradually increasing exercise resistance as the muscles become stronger. More specifically, it is important to use enough resistance to fatigue the target muscles within 50 to 70 seconds.
Although there is no “best” speed for developing muscle strength, slow lifting and lowering movements are more effective than faster movements. Slower training speeds are safer, as they involve less momentum and place significantly less stress on joint structures. In general, take about two seconds to lift the weighs and about four to lower them.
To develop strength throughout the full range of joint movement, it is necessary to exercise throughout the full movement range. We only become stronger in the movement range in which we train. It is easier to train in the mid-range of movement, but including the end ranges maintains muscle balance and joint integrity.
To increase muscle strength, it is important to fatigue the target muscles within the anaerobic energy system. This requires enough resistance to cause temporary muscle failure within 50 to 70 seconds. This is typically 70 to 80% maximum resistance, which is safe for training purposes. However, it is not necessary to determine your maximum resistance in order to train at the 70 to 80% level. There is a direct relationship between the resistance and the number of repetitions that can be completed. Research indicates that most people can perform 8 to 12 repetitions with 70 to 80% of maximum resistance. When performed in a controlled manner, two seconds lifting and four seconds lowering, eight to 12 repetitions take about 50 to 70 seconds. Find the weight you can lift for about 10 repetitions. That will place you in the correct resistance range, and allow you to progress safely to higher strength levels.
When you have established the appropriate starting resistance, the next step is gradual progression. A double progressive system increases repetitions, then resistance. For example, suppose you begin with 5 pounds for 10 repetitions. Stay at 5 pounds until you are strong enough to complete 12 repetitions. The next workout, increase the resistance by 50% to 7.5 pounds until you are strong enough to compete repetitions and then increase to 10 pounds.
The primary stimulus for strength development is training intensity, rather than duration. In other words, one properly performed set of each exercise is an effective training protocol. Although research indicates little benefit from multiple-set training, you can do 2 to 3 sets per exercise as long as you remain sensitive to signs of overfatigue. Most people will experience excellent strength gains training two to three days a weeks. A Monday-Wednesday-Friday, or Monday-Thursday sequence are examples of good strength-training schedules.
You can then add other types of exercise based on your new strength which we have suggested such as aerobics, Yoga, stretch, team and individual, etc. to round out your program as time allows. What you do want to do, however, is to concentrate on lean muscle development as outlined. Our experts both this month and last have shared the importance of resistance training for slimming down and developing lean muscle mass. The good thing is that we can all do it, and accomplishing it, we will add to our overall health.