Although my parents are frequently mistaken for a young couple in their 40s, they are actually approaching several years older. I have been training them on-and-off for the last couple years but they have been staying really consistent for the last couple months. It makes me happy they are taking control of their health and doing what they can to improve their quality of life via lifting weights. While I have many issues with our culture’s harmful perspectives around growing older, aging is inevitable and there are many age-related health conditions that we should be honest about.
Some age-related processes that severely interfere with quality of life are sarcopenia, muscle weakness, mobility loss, chronic disease and disability. An excerpt from a recent position statement from the National Strength and Conditioning Association called Resistance Training for Older Adults said that “there is strong evidence to support the benefits of resistance exercise for countering many age-related processes of sarcopenia, muscle weakness, mobility loss, chronic disease, disability, and even premature mortality.” They also make mention that the greatest benefits of resistance training can be seen by progressing from low-intensity, low-volume training programs to moderate to higher intensity programs. This includes positive mood and psychosocial benefits as well.
Another common age-related illness is depression and other psychological disorders. In fact, about 20% of older adults suffer from mental health issues. Also, it is believed that loss of physical ability contributes to depression which further supports the recommendation to participate in resistance training from a psychosocial perspective.
One of the harmful ideas our culture perpetuates about aging is that a lot of the negative effects of aging are assumed to be inevitable, but this just isn’t true. The statement explains that “older adults who practice healthy lifestyles, avoid sedentariness, participate in physical exercise (e.g. walking, strength training, or self-adjusted physical activity), use clinical preventive services and continue to engage with family and friends are more likely to remain healthy, live independently, and incur fewer health-related costs. Resistance exercise training is one of the most important components in improving the functional capacity of frail older adults.”
Unfortunately, many older folks are still not regularly participating in resistance training despite the known benefits. In fact, only 8.7% of adults over 75 years old in the United States report engaging in muscle-strengthening activities. The statement by the NSCA said that the “barriers to participation in resistance exercise for older adults include safety, fear, health concerns, pain, fatigue, and lack of social support. The low participation rates and broad health benefits underscore the need for evidence-based guidelines and recommendations for resistance exercise for older adults to safely and beneficially incorporate strength training into their lives.”
As health professionals, we have the obligation to arm our loved ones with the information and support they need to mitigate the deleterious effects of aging. This not only includes the obvious solution of providing training services to our parents and grandparents, but also helping to gently snuff out harmful ideas they may believe about growing older and, instead, introducing them to perspectives that instill hope and independence.
Tim Walcott, Owner and Founder of Motus Strength Health Club – a fitness facility servicing the general population that offers Registered Massage Therapy, Private 1-on-1 Personal Training, Online Personal Training, and Nutrition Coaching.
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Fragala et al. Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: August 2019 – Volume 33 – Issue 8 – p 2019–2052.