Strength training for seniors





Strength Training for Seniors 1

Photo: Active Health

The saying goes “You never know what you have till it is gone”. This applies to the human body and its strength. Between ages 30 to 60, there is a steady decline of muscle strength. Because the initial rate of decline is so gradual, you will not feel its significance until you reach the age of 60 and above. Once past 60 years, there is an accelerated loss of muscle strength. By the age of 80, this loss gets greater. This is a natural ageing process and it cannot be undone. However, it can be slowed down.

Regular strength (resistance) training slows the rate of this ageing process. This means that you will be able to slow down the loss of strength as you age, as long as you perform strengthening exercises regularly.

READ: Can exercise prevent ageing?

Why is it so important?

Strength is required in many instances of our lives: rising from a chair, climbing stairs, getting in and out of the car, carrying groceries, pushing or pulling open a door, etc. It is crucial for seniors who wish to stay independent. Despite it being so frequently needed, it often gets overlooked or undermined.

Having sufficient strength in your legs significantly reduces the risk of falls as one ages. Other benefits include reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis, lowering hypertension, improving cardiovascular disorders and helps with balance and postural control.

Many seniors dread the day when they need to use a walking aid such as a walking stick or frame, in order to move about. Possessing good lower limb strength and balance keeps this need at bay.

READ ALSO: Seniors: Increase your flexibility bit by bit with these stretches

Common misconceptions

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Photo: Active Health

Strength training helps build and maintain the strength and mass of your muscles. It typically involves some sort of weight or resistance such as dumbbells, ankle weights, resistance bands or body weight. Therefore, exercises like walking, jogging or cycling do not fall under the category of strength training. These are considered aerobic exercises that improve the function of your heart and lungs.

Thinking that you need to be in the best of health in order to do strength training is a common myth. Strength training is recommended for healthy individuals, and even those with chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, arthritis, etc. Research has shown that its effects are best enjoyed when strength training is done regularly, at least two days a week. As such, doing too little would not reap the optimal benefits.

Strengthening exercises target large muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Large muscles of the upper body include the entire back muscles, chest and shoulder blade muscles and the widely known biceps and triceps. Large muscles of the lower body encompass the buttocks, thighs and calves. Check out the various exercises below adapted for different environments as recommended by our Active Health Coach, Mr Munir. You can aim for two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions for each exercise. If you have any medical or musculoskeletal conditions that may affect your ability to take part in any physical activity, please approach a doctor or a physiotherapist for individualised recommendations and treatment.

Home exercises

1) Bicep curls with resistance band targeting arms

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Image: Active Health

  • Hold the ends/handles of the resistance band in each hand and step on the band with your feet about hip-width apart
  • While maintaining an upright posture, slowly pull the band towards your shoulders
  • Your upper arm and elbows should be fixed by your side
  • Once you reach the top of the movement, slowly return the band towards the starting position and repeat

2) Front raises with resistance band targeting shoulders

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Image: Active Health

  • Hold the ends/handles of the resistance band in each hand and step on the band with feet hip-width apart
  • Stand up straight and raise your hands straight up in front of you until about shoulder level
  • Pause at the top of the movement before lowering the band to the starting position
  • Repeat the movement

3) Standing calf raises targeting calf muscles

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Image: Active Health

  • Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart
  • Hold on to a wall or fixed object for support
  • While focusing on the contraction of your calf muscles, bring yourself up to the ball of your feet
  • Pause at the top of the movement before returning to the starting position
  • Repeat the movement

4) Squats targeting legs

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Image: Active Health

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart
  • Bend your knees and drive your hips back as if you were lowering yourself onto a seat behind you
  • As you do this, swing your arms in front of you
  • Ensure that your upper body is straight throughout the movement
  • Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, bring yourself up to the starting position with your hands by your side
  • Repeat the movement

Fitness corner exercises

1) Wall push-ups

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Image: Active Health

  • Stand in front of a wall with your arms extended at shoulder level
  • Place your palms on the wall at about shoulder-width apart
  • Bend your elbows and lean towards the wall until your chest is almost touching the wall
  • Ensure that your body is straight
  • Push yourself back to the starting position by extending your arms and repeat the movement

2) Inclined pull-ups

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Image: Active Health

  • Lie on your back under the bar
  • The bar should be at about mid-chest level
  • Reach up and grip the bar with both hands slightly wider than your shoulders
  • Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground
  • Pull yourself up towards the bar while keeping your body straight
  • Pause at the top when your chest is almost touching the bar
  • Lower yourself in a controlled manner to the starting position and repeat

3) Step-ups targeting legs

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Image: Active Health

  • Position yourself in front of a step (stairs, bench or box)
  • Step on the platform with your left leg and lift the rest of your body until your right leg is on the platform
  • Step off using your left leg followed by the right
  • Repeat by alternating between right and left leg

Gym exercises

1) Seated machine chest press targeting chest and arms

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Image: Active Health

  • Sit with your back rested and ensure that the handles are at mid-chest level
  • Grab the handles with your elbows are out by your side just below your shoulders
  • Push the hand lever out by extending your arms
  • Return the weight back to your chest and repeat the movement
  • Make sure your elbows do not go past your back upon returning to the starting position
  • Note that most machines will have a foot lever that allows you to grab the handles comfortably without hyper-extending your shoulders

2) Seated machine row targeting back and arms

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Image: Active Health

  • Sit upright with your chest rested on the pad
  • Reach forward and grab the handles
  • Pull the weight towards you by driving your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together
  • Return the bar to the starting position in a controlled manner and repeat the movement

3) Leg curls targeting hamstrings and glutes

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Image: Active Health

  • Sit with your back supported and place your legs above the foot pad with feet pointing forward
  • Adjust and position the pad just above your heels
  • Bring your legs back towards you until your knees form a 90-degree angle
  • Return to the starting position by extending your legs in front of you and repeat the movement

4) Leg extension targeting thighs

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Image: Active Health

  • Sit with your back supported and place your legs below the foot pad with feet pointing forward. Ensure that the pad is rested on your shins just above your feet
  • Your knees should form a 90-degree angle
  • Grab the hand bars firmly to support yourself during the movement
  • Using your thigh muscles, extend your legs fully and return to the starting position slowly
  • Repeat the movement

What are you waiting for?

After reading about the benefits of strength training and knowing that it can be done anywhere, why not start strengthening today?

If you would like more tips on strength training, you may get in touch with any of our Active Health Coaches at eight Active Health Labs located islandwide. In addition, if you are aged 60 and above or you know someone in this age group, you can book an Age-Related Muscle Loss Assessment to understand how a balanced diet and regular exercise can help to slow down muscle loss and weakness associated with ageing.

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Topics: Physical Activity