Strength training can slow and even reverse the declines in strength, bone density and muscle mass that accompany aging. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends weight training for people over 50 in addition to aerobic activity and stretching.
"Generally, sedentary people can lose up to 10 percent of their lean muscle mass each decade after age 30," says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
"If you don't do anything to replace that loss, you're losing muscle and increasing fat," says Dr. Laskowski. "But if you do weight training, you can preserve and enhance your muscle mass. It's like having a V-8 engine instead of a 4-cylinder. You have a bigger engine to burn more calories because it takes calories to keep that engine running."
Aerobic exercises like running, walking and bicycling strengthen the heart by forcing it to adapt to the stress in a positive way. Similarly, weight training, done properly, challenges other muscles by forcing them to adapt to the stress and become stronger. Weight training does more than just build muscle. It can also stimulate and strengthen bones to help fight osteoporosis. Weight training can also help older people maintain their independence by keeping them strong enough to do routine tasks.
Recommendations of Physical Activity: How much is enough?
- Every adult should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week 43,32
- In addition to aerobic exercise, people should engage in resistance training and flexibility exercises at least twice a week 7
- ACSM's guideline for healthy aerobic activity is to exercise 3-5 days a week, and maintain your intensity for 30-45 minutes 1
Exercise is the best 'medication' healthcare providers can prescribe for their geriatric patients 10. Increasing fitness by participating in a regular exercise program can reduce the effects of aging that lead to functional declines and poor health 10.
For more information on exercise interventions refer to these sources:
Aging, Habitual Exercise and Vascular Endothelial Function 16
Aging and Cardiovascular Regulation with Acute and Habitual Exercise 45
Effects of Aging and Exercise on Function of skeletal Muscle Arterioles 37
Effects of the Amount of Exercise on Body Weight, Body Composition, and Measures of Central Obesity 52