What are your health and fitness goals for this spring? Are you looking forward to getting out in your garden, playing tennis or golf with friends, or traveling to a new destination? Whether your dream is to keep up with the grandkids, or be swimsuit ready for your cruise this summer, resistance training can help transform the dream into an achievable goal.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute on Aging all recommend regular resistance training for men and women 50 and older, within specific guidelines. This is because the most dramatic declines due to aging are in muscle strength. “Unless you do resistance exercise—strength training with weights or elastic bands—you lose six pounds of muscle a decade,” says Wayne Wescott, author of “Strength Training Past 50.”
Resistance training is a form of strength training in which various muscle groups in the body are engaged to oppose a force. Muscle groups either move against, or hold still against the force. Exercises may employ equipment using a cable system, such as the Total Gym or Resistance Chair, or may involve props as simple as a chair and dumbbells. ACSM recommends beginning with a cable system and progressing to free weights to avoid injury. A safe, effective workout regimen should include daily stretching and balance exercises, and resistance training two to three times a week alternating with three to five days of moderate cardio-vascular conditioning. However, individuals with chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, or osteoporosis should always seek professional advice when evaluating frequency, duration, intensity, and number of sets and repetitions. Chair-based exercise routines are an ideal starting point for such individuals because they provide a stable, low-impact environment in which to increase strength and cardio capacity.
What are some of the benefits of resistance training? First, if you regularly incorporate this type of strength training into your routine you’ll ensure greater long-term functionality. According to the Boston Globe, “Resistance training makes muscles substantially stronger and helps people do better at everyday activities such as walking, climbing steps, and standing up from chairs.” Such basic day-to-day activities help senior adults to maintain independence, and the ability to continue enjoying other activities such as hiking, bowling, cycling, and romping with the grandkids.
Secondly, an exercise regimen that includes resistance training has broad health benefits. Susan Crandell, author of “Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife,” reports in AARP Magazine that “strength training just 20 minutes a day, two or three times a week, can rebuild three pounds of muscle and increase your metabolism by seven percent. [You’ll] feel more energetic, more alert, more vital and alive. Plus, the added muscle has a halo effect on many systems of the body, reducing blood pressure, improving your ability to use glucose from the blood by 25 percent, increasing bone mass by one to three percent, and improving gastrointestinal efficiency by 55 percent.”
And let’s face it, we’d all like to look great on the beach, wouldn’t we? What’s the relationship between resistance training and weight loss? The bottom line in weight loss, medical conditions such as thyroid aside, is that when you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight. An intelligent weight loss program includes both nutrition and exercise, variables determined by the specific profile of the person attempting to lose weight. Research has shown circuit resistance training produces the same calorie burn as a brisk walk, while also building lean muscle mass.)
Anecdotal evidence also points to the effectiveness of resistance training in a weight-loss program. Louise Geary Crawford, a 73-year-old nurse, real estate agent and business owner, was told by her doctor that it would be unlikely she’d be able to lose weight at her age. She tried various diet plans to no avail. Despite these failures, she kept exploring options for weight loss, greater flexibility, and increased energy. Ultimately, she turned to resistance training. Now, nearly a year later and almost 50 pounds lighter, she’s a remarkable success story.
The evidence is clear. Having an exercise routine that includes resistance training can be transformational. You’ll lose the weight, lower your blood pressure, start running or cycling. How about the National Senior Games in 2011?
Carolyn Nutovic is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.