Most people lose about 30% of their muscle strength between the ages of 50 and 70 years old. It brings many problems to their daily life, such as:
- Loss of mobility.
- Loss of body balance which makes them more likely to fall easily and break hip bones.
- Loss of bone density.
- Loss of physical activities which causes one to fain more body fat and may accelerate cardio-vascular problems. Loss of cognitive capacity.
In short, you get many of the symptoms of old age. However, you don’t need to be like that. You can counteract this through strength training. Many people stop working out after hitting the big five-oh, but in fact it is actually the time you need it most.
Although there are many reasons that people after 50 don’t work out, one reason is because their body ‘hurts.’ This is because, like many people in mid 40s who start wearing reading glasses due to loss of flexibility of eye muscles, our muscles and joints start start showing some problems around that age. Even though our lifespan has been extended dramatically in the last 2,000 years, our body still thinks our lifespan is around 40 years old (passed reproductive age).
These problems, however, could be counter-acted by workouts. Although you cannot jump into a boot camp class like 20-year-olds on the day you re-join a gym, you can always gradually increase your capacity to the level of someone who is 20 years younger than yourself. This is really important, especially for those who have not done any resistance training for a long time.
Researchers at the University of Michigan published the following guidelines for those who have not done much weight training.
- Start just using your body weight.
- Join a gym and work out with a gym trainer to get used to the gym equipment.
- Don’t forget to “progress.”
OK, here is a bit more details. There are three basic resistance trainings anyone can do with just their body weight anywhere and anytime: Pushups, Squats, and Situps (PSS). These three workouts use all of the major muscle groups of your body. As for older people, probably the standard PSS workout is too difficult at the beginning, and I recommend starting with a modified version; wall pushups, squats with support, and seated leg raises. The wall pushup is easy. Leaning on to the wall at an angle of between 10 to 45 degrees
(the deeper the angle, the more difficult), and do pushups. If it is getting easy, then try floor pushups, but in a kneeing position (“kneeing pushups” or “girl’s pushups.”)
Probably most people can do squats, but if you have difficulty with the squats, hold the back of a chair (a steady heavy one) while doing the squats. You really need to pay attentions while performing the squats. If you do them wrongly, you will damage your knees. Make sure that you know how to do the squats correctly before doing it; when you lower the body your knees should not pass the position of your toes. In other words, stick your butt out. Go to YouTube and check out the correct way to do them.
If you can do sit-ups that is great, but “traditional” sit-ups are not good for your lower back; so do stomach crunches instead. You need to lie on the floor with your lower back firmly flat on the floor. Then pull your knees towards your chest. If you are not used to doing this and find it difficult, here is another option. Sit on a chair, hold the side of the chair and bring up your knees up and then lower slowly. This will give you a great abdominal workout.
Once you get used to these exercises, you can do more at home, or join a gym, a yoga studio, a Tai Chi center, or a Pilate studio. Probably Tai Chi won’t give your as much of a muscle workout as others, but it is a great option for people in the older bracket. It gives you so many good benefits (see the article about Tai Chi.)
If you join a gym, make sure that you work out with a gym trainer at first. You also need to make sure that she knows how to work out with older people, not just with a 20-year-old. This could be difficult since many gyms don’t have a trainer certified to work out with the older population. You may want to call several gyms to make sure they have the trainer at the gym.
The point three in the list is very important. After a while most people fall into a routine and do the same workout at the same level of intensity day in and day out. Sure, there are some benefits by doing this, but you are not getting a full benefit of the workout. You need to gradually increase resistance and/or intensity. To do this, you may want to work with the trainer once a month or, at least, once every three months to change your routines. I don’t recommend to work out with a trainer every time, since it creates dependency
on the trainer (and it is very expensive!), though it is nice to have workout buddies. Sometime, the trainer at the gym can work out with you and your workout buddy at the same time; and it will save some expenses.
If you keep doing this, you will stay healthy and active. You may become Ms Universe at the age of 90!
The Intensity and Effects of Strength Training in the Elderly. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 2011 Resistance Exercise for the Aging Adult: Clinical Implications and Prescription Guidelines. The American Journal of Medicine, 2011
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