Weight training for seniors is one of the most valuable things we can add to our lives.
However, most elderly seniors we mention weight training to just cringe at the thought.
So, I began to ask them: "Why?"
Here are the main 3 reasons Seniors and Elderly gave me:
1) Almost all of us, who really have no knowledge of weight training for seniors, think that we have no real need to become a “Muscle Man”. Or, an “Amazon woman”. And, they’re right!
2) Most of us no longer want to strain, huff and puff, or sweat like crazy anymore. Heck, a large bunch of us really don’t want to exercise at all. Correct?
3) Long boring workouts are just not for us. Our time and energy is too precious. And, it’s no fun.
Luckily, that is not what Weight Training for Seniors is all about.
As we become seniors and continue to advance on in years, an active life becomes more important than ever.
I know, so many of us wait for retirement so that we can take it easy and relax. Do nothing. Right?
And, that’s great! What we waited for. Enjoy!
BUT: Our bodies still crave movement. And, we need Strength. And, Balance. Otherwise we’re going to become miserable and lose our functional independence. That’s a terrible thing.
And, did you know you only have to do some very pleasant weight training (adjusted just for seniors and elderly) for 20 minutes a day? Only about 3 days of the week?
Not sounding too bad. Is it?
That’s all it takes to maintain physical fitness, build our muscles, and our strength. Weight training can even improve our balance.
The truth is, if we really want to enjoy our golden years, we have to keep our bodies tuned up with some regular exercise. There is no way around this.
“Move it or lose it.” is more true than ever when we become seniors AND elderly.
Weight Training for Seniors (and elderly) can do these important things for us:
Pretty Amazing! Do you agree?
I know, most of you hate the whole idea of having to exercise. Of course you do. We all remember what they put us through at school.
The best news about weight training for seniors is this:
Weight training for seniors does NOT involve strenuous workouts or trips to a gym.
There are simple weightlifting exercises that will give us all the benefits we want, that we can do right in our own homes. In just 20 minutes, 2 - 3 times a week. That’s it! It’s that simple and easy.
Now, if you like going to a gym, great! They often have special classes just for us. But, most of us don’t want to go to a gym. So, we won’t have to.
First: We’re not going to become “Muscle Men” or “Amazon Women” by exercising with weights. Even if we wanted to we can’t. Senior bodies no longer have that ability. So women, don’t worry about getting great big muscles.
Second: We’re not going to be doing any long boring workouts. Those aren’t even good for young adults, much less for us. And, we are just not interested in spending our hours that way. Right?
Third: Our weight training feels good. An entire workout is never more than 20 minutes. Even just five minutes can be very beneficial if that’s all you can do. And, it is refreshing!
Fourth: We’re seniors now. Our abilities are less than they once were. It takes longer to recuperate from exercise now. Our joints are invariably somewhat worn. So, we will now exercise within our abilities and pleasure zones.
We’ll feel Good instead of beaten up after our workouts.
It’s fun to move. It feels good. When we are moving within our ability. That is our pleasure zone.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t work hard. It means that our hard work is within the range of pleasure.
All of us seniors have different physical ability. Just like when we were young and in school. There were the super strong kids. The weak ones. And, everybody else in between.
Regardless of our individual differences, weight training for seniors will make us all stronger.
Weight training for seniors just means doing some simple common movement with a little more resistance (weight) than normal.
Weight training is one form of what is called “resistance training”. Using Exercise Bands is another.
When we regularly use our muscles more intensely than normal,
they will grow and become stronger.
What’s the benefit of this?
When we become stronger, ALL of our daily activities become easier and more pleasant. Our balance becomes better. And, these physical improvements mean we have less chance of falling.
Three times a week is plenty.
Two times is the minimum. Four times is for when we become more fit and want to exercise more. Three will always be plenty.
For 20 minutes a session. That’s all.
Now, here are the Benefits we can look forward to:
It’s natural to lose a certain amount of muscle as we age. Everybody will.
“The good news is that exercise can stave off and even reverse muscle loss and weakness.”
reference: “How Muscles Age, and How Exercise Can Slow It”
Weight training for seniors causes muscles to grow. Become bigger. Stay stronger.
Walking speed, as well as endurance improves.
Regular weight training improves overall functional independence and quality of life in seniors.
“Experts believe that resistance exercise may forestall declines in strength and muscle mass for decades.”
reference: “Live Better as You Age and Exercise for Seniors”
Weightlifting improves general sleep quality and scores on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
Better sleep quality improves our feeling of well being and our overall function in daily activities.
Weight training helps reduce pain. Both general and disorder specific.
This gives us not only more comfort, but also greater ease of movement with less restrictions.
Our regular weightlifting practices improve our functional capabilities. This allows us a more active lifestyle.
Being more active, and having more social interaction, very positively affects our mental and emotional well being.
Did you know 2 out of 3 women suffer with urinary incontinence? In the studies from Charles Darwin University, women saw a 40% reduction in leaks due to a regular program of resistance training.
In a European Study, researchers found that 20 minutes of daily exercise could reduce the risk of an early death by up to 32%.
A separate National Interview Survey found that adults who are 65 and older, who practiced weightlifting just twice a week, had a 46% lowers odds of all-cause mortality.
Weight training for seniors helps fight obesity. Metabolism increases with regular weightlifting. We burn more fat.
This alone should get many of us motivate. Right?
Interestingly, women lose more fat than men.
This is one I know we are all interested in. Staying functionally independent our entire lives. This is one of the main things that motivates me to keep weight training regularly.
Take a look at what we seniors can gain from a regular short weight training program:
Weight training consistently improves:
Just 12 weeks of weight training was shown to improve flexibility in all the joints.
When strength is increased it takes us less time to climb stairs, get up from a chair, or get into a chair. And, we do all these thing with greater confidence and ability.
Weight training is just as effective as doing aerobic exercises for improving functional capabilities.
Because we move with greater confidence and ability, we have less worry about falling.
Regular weightlifting reduces pain.
Bone mineral density improves.
Lifting weights regularly is considered the most bone producing and strengthening activity.
Weight training can significantly reduces depression.
Weightlifting reduces anxiety and overall tension.
Regular training improves self perception of our physical well being, self esteem, and body satisfaction.
Both moderate and high intensity training significantly outperform aerobic exercises when it comes to overall cognitive functioning.
Exercising with weights is just as beneficial as aerobic exercising for improving levels of confusion.
“A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics society also demonstrated the effect that weight training has on memory and reasoning in older adults. The study included 68 women and 32 men, ages 55 through 86, all of whom had mild cognitive impairment…. The group that engaged in 6 months of weight training scored significantly higher on tests conducted immediately after the study, an improvement that they retained after 12 months.”
reference: “How Resistance Training Supports Cognition and Memory”
Weight training, after the bone has mended, helps us get back to normal function more quickly. Muscle function improves. Symmetry in sit-and-stand tasks improves. General function improves more rapidly.
“According to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, older adults who maintained a twice-weekly strength training program had a lower mortality rate and longer overall life expectancy than their sedentary counterparts. That’s not to say that any form of daily exercise isn’t also helpful, however conclusions suggest that resistance exercises in particular help improve mobility and functionality in seniors, and are a huge part of the equation.”
Did you know that you can still gain muscle mass and strength with weight training for seniors even if you are over 90 years old?
That's right! When it comes to Weight Training for Seniors, no matter how old we are, it’s never too late to get started.
Do This FIRST:
As seniors, before we begin any type of exercise program it’s important to talk with our doctor.
This will let us be confident that the exercises we choose are good for us, based on our current conditions.
He may also have suggestions as to which exercises to include or avoid for our greatest benefits.
Choose appropriate exercises.
If you are already exercising and at least somewhat fit, you can play around with whatever weightlifting and resistance exercises that look interesting to you.
Just Remember: Weight training is different than aerobic exercises like walking, running, bicycling, etc…. When we walk or run, we take thousands of steps. We are doing thousands of the same light movement over and over again.
When we weight train we are only doing 10 -20 movements at a time for each exercise. We are putting a much heavier load on the movement. This is what will make our muscles grow and get stronger.
We are also putting much more pressure on our joints. So we have to be careful not to use too much weight too soon.
Start with weights that are easy to use and gradually add more until you have a comfortably heavy, but not too heavy, resistance.
For those new to weight training:
We’re going to show you how to get started correctly, and, what the very best single exercise is if you have limited energy right now, and can only do one exercise. You can add more exercises as you get stronger.
Just one more VERY IMPORTANT thing before we get started:
If any exercise hurts, or, becomes painful, STOP right away and try a lighter weight. If you still feel the pain, STOP. Move on to another exercise.
Not every exercise will suit every one of us. Do the ones you are able to do without discomfort.
That does not mean you should not feel the effort. It means the effort should be an exciting comfortable experience.
OK. Now, the question is: How much weight should you use when you start?
This is a very important question.
Answer: Use enough weight to make the movements a comfortable effort.
Too little weight will not bring much in the way of results. It's too little if you feel like the exercise is super easy and you could continue the movement all day long.
Too much weight can cause injury. It's too much if you have to strain to move the weight through the exercise even a few times.
Experiment until you find what feels best to you. It’s always better to have the weight a little too light than a little too heavy.
Over time, when the exercise becomes too easy, add a little more weight.
Here we go. You’re beginning a very wonderful and valuable journey.
We’re going to start with the most basic movement that will strengthen our legs first. This one exercise movement will:
The exercise is simply called “Sit to Stand”. Also known as “The Squat” when no chair is used.
The version I’m going to show you is for the beginners. The difference here is that beginners with limited strength will not sit all the way down before coming back up.
Why don’t we go all the way down? Because: It is easier and more possible when our legs lack strength.
As you get stronger and stronger you can go lower and lower until you fully sit, fully stand, fully sit, fully stand……
In the beginning, you may even want to place a thick cushion on the seat of the chair to keep you from sitting too far down.
You may hold onto your walker (if you use one) for balance.
The idea is to do 10 full movements as far as you can. Don't be concerned how far anyone else goes. This is not a competition. So, don’t overdo. Especially in the beginning. It’s better to do a little too little than a little too much.
Keep that point in mind even when you become much stronger.
Now: Here is a short VIDEO to show you how it’s done.
Did you see how she was going only half way down to the chair?
Remember: Only go as far down as is comfortable. Then stand back up. Over time you’ll be able to go lower and lower until you are fully seated before coming back up.
“But, where are the weights?”
Is that what you’re thinking?
Adding weights will come later. When your legs are strong enough to do this exercise (going all the way down to the chair seat) 10 times pretty easily, you’ll then start holding a weight in each hand.
The weights can be water bottles (big or small), cans of soup, or dumbbells.
The fellow in this VIDEO has gained some good strength already. Each one of those gallon water jugs weighs 8 pounds!:
* editors note: By the way, even without holding any added weight, your legs are actually lifting a lot of weight. They are lifting the weight of your entire head, arms, and torso. About 2/3 of your bodyweight!
That means if you weigh 150 pounds, your legs are actually lifting 100 pounds of weight. If you weigh only 100 pounds, they are lifting about 65 pounds. If you weigh 200 pounds, they are lifting about 135 pounds! Wow!
If you are a fan of “Cindy” (the senior exercise guru) here’s a VIDEO she created to strengthen your entire body in one 15 minute workout. If you don’t know who Cindy is yet, you’ll meet her here. She’s a great on line senior exercise instructor to work with.
NOW: We suggest that when you first try these exercises, use only a pencil in each hand as your weights. Yes, just a regular pencil.
“Why a pencil?”
The reason is: You just want to get used to the movements before you start adding weights. Once you feel comfortable with each movement (that may be on the very first try!) you can add the weights.
Your first weights may just be small water bottles, or, soup cans (full of soup!, not empty). Later, you may want to get some dumbbells.
This VIDEO will get you started nicely:
You’re not going to feel stronger each time you exercise.
Some days you’re going to notice that you feel much stronger and the exercises were a breeze.
Some days you’ll exercise and feel like your ass is dragging on the floor, and wonder why you ever even started weight training. (You may also even find yourself cursing me…. It’s OK. I can take it.)
Those energy lows happen to everyone. Even the finest young athletes in the world!
However: If each workout seems too hard, you’re doing too much or using too much weight. Do less. Use less weight. You’ll feel better, and, ironically, get stronger faster. That is because your body will be able to recuperate and grow muscles more efficiently.
Too much exercise will slow your progress.
How much is the right amount?
The amount that you enjoy doing. The amount that makes you feel happily used. NOT abused. Get it? Good!
- As you read above, Weight Training for Seniors has a LOT of Benefits:
- Weight training for seniors can be done (and started!) at and age. As you already learned: Even if you’re over 90 you can improve strength and gain muscle mass.
- Do only as many exercises as you are comfortable doing. Then stop for the day.
- Don’t strain.
- If ever you feel pain, STOP immediately and move on to another exercise. Not every exercise is right for all of us.
- You need to train with weights 2 or 3 times a week to achieve results.
“We’ve waited a long time to retire. NOW, they’re telling us we have to exercise!”
Well, you don’t have to exercise. You can sit in a chair all day and grow more and more feeble and miserable if you want to.
But, if you want to reap those benefits you read above, you’re going to have to exercise. Weight training 2 or 3 days a week for just 20 minutes at a time is the quickest and easiest way to get those wonderful benefits.
Weight training is not like most seniors imagine.
When you start getting in and out of out chairs so easily, and, you go right up the steps without huffing and puffing, you will feel Joyful!
With weight training for seniors we also ache less. We sleep better and more deeply. And, we realize three short 20 minute sessions a week is so worth the time spent.
Are you ready to begin?
Wishing You Renewed Strength and Vitality! ~ William, Fiona, and Charlotte