Physical activity is an essential part of everyday life for people of all ages. The NHS and CMO recommends adults over the age of 65 should be performing physical activity every day. This should include 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both. Twice a week they should perform exercises that improve their strength, balance, and flexibility.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise is a great way to improve our physical and mental health, allowing us to live a better quality of life. Regular exercise helps us build a stronger cardiopulmonary system. This means our heart and lungs get better at moving oxygenated blood around our bodies, thus less stress is placed on them. Our blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate all drop, therefore, our risk of developing chronic diseases is reduced.
Regular exercise is also great for our acute and chronic mental health. In the short-term many feel good endorphins are released making us feel happier and more confident. In the long-term, our brains get better at functioning and we’re able to deal with stress and anxiety better.
Age-Related Effects on Muscle
As we get older our muscle mass, strength, and function decline. Many of us believe it’s down to a reduction in physical activity. While true in part, we do notice biological changes that contribute to the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function as we age. This age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, and function is known as sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia begins earlier than we think. Starting at just aged 30 and accelerating over age 60. The cause of sarcopenia can be divided into three primary categories; diminished muscle building ability, chronic inflammation, and disuse. While we can’t stop the effects of ageing on muscle, we can provide damage limitation at any point – it’s never too late.
Take this example. A young male played sports throughout his youth and remained active by going to the gym four days a week up to retirement. He’s got a strong foundation of fitness that allows him to continue living his life without being deliberated physically or mentally. However, he should not think his previous athleticism will carry him through his old age. Muscle is a great example of “use it or lose it”. He has two options.
- Become totally sedentary and slowly lose muscle mass, strength, and function. Over time, his health will deteriorate to a point he can no longer stand or walk without assistance.
- Remain active regularly and delay the effects of muscle mass, strength, and function loss. Over time, daily activities might become more taxing, but he can still live an independent high-quality life.
Of course, there are a variety of other factors that will dictate a person’s health over time, but this example highlights the importance of regular activity independent of exogenous factors.
Benefits of Resistance Training for Older Adults
As mentioned, older adults need to exercise regularly with two sessions a week being focused on improving strength, balance, and flexibility. Resistance training specifically targets the area of strength, muscle mass, and function – the three components of sarcopenia. Therefore, resistance training is used as a tool to help combat the potential deliberating effects of sarcopenia. Here’s how resistance training benefits older adults:
- Prevent the development of age-related changes in contractile function, atrophy, and morphology of skeletal muscle.
- Amplify muscle strength, power, and neuromuscular functioning.
- Improve neuromuscular, neuroendocrine, and hormonal adaptations to support the benefits of resistance training.
- Improve mobility, physical functioning, and independence.
- Reduce the risk of injuries and falls.
- Improve mental health and wellbeing.
What Is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is a form of exercise that stimulates muscle contraction, builds muscle, improves strength, and develops the anaerobic system. Resistance is created by working against a load. This might be in the form of an external weight such as rubber bands or soft weights, or our body weight.
Incorporating Resistance Training Into Life
The importance of resistance training for older adults is undeniable. However, there are many barriers preventing older adults from engaging in resistance training. Figures suggest only 8.7% of older adults engage in resistance exercise, despite the known benefits. Older adults report fears of safety, health concerns, pain, fatigue, and lack of social support as the main barriers to resistance training. Therefore, it’s important training sessions remain close to the client’s comfort zone. If possible, training sessions should be supervised and psychological techniques should be used to adjust the client’s thoughts surrounding resistance training.
General recommendations for healthy older adults include performing 1-3 sets of 8 different exercises for a total of 8-15 repetitions. Exercise should be focused on functionality in daily life. For example, programming the squat crosses over to being able to stand out of a chair. Or including Turkish get ups which transfer to being able to stand up from a lying position. It’s also important to screen the client for any specific areas of limitations they have as an individual and programme around that.
In conclusion, as we age we experience age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. While we can’t stop the ageing process, we can delay the process using resistance training. Keeping our muscles strong gives us the ability to live a more independent high-quality life. It is important client’s feel safe and capable when performing resistance exercise as it is often viewed as a difficult, fearful task. Exercise should focus on functional movements that crossover into daily tasks such as standing and walking.
Fragala, M. S., Cadore, E. L., Dorgo, S., Izquierdo, M., Kraemer, W. J., Peterson, M. D., & Ryan, E. D. (2019). Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement From the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 33(8), 2019–2052. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003230