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Strong and Sturdy: Resistance Training and Older Adults

A Losing Proposition
“Getting older is not for sissies,” is a recurrent mantra in retirement communities across the country. The inevitable process of aging brings with it a plethora of physical and sometimes mental changes that must be faced with courage. Osteoporosis, the loss of bone mineral density, along with sarcopenia, the wasting of lean muscle mass, are two conditions that plague older adults. As fitness professionals, we can help minimize the negative effects of these conditions through well designed resistance training programs.

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Density Dynamics
Loss of bone mineral density, or BMD, due to hormonal changes can cause bones to become brittle and fragile in older men and women. Combined with other factors that increase the risk of falling, low BMD puts older adults at a high risk for fractures, some of which can be permanently debilitating. Common sites for fractures include the hip and spine. Maintaining strong and healthy bones should be a priority for older adults. A 2012 study of 124 older adults published in “Osteoporosis International” found all types of resistance training to have positive bone density responses for the hip and spine in the test subjects.

Muscle Matters
Shrinking muscle mass and loss of strength can have a profound impact on the quality of life of older adults. Increased risk of falling and decreased functional performance can prevent older adults from enjoying their golden years to the fullest. Sarcopenia has many root causes, including inflammation, insulin resistance, changing endocrine function, chronic diseases, nutritional deficiencies and low levels of physical activity. Resistance training can slow and even reverse sarcopenia. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it is never too late to benefit from a resistance training program.

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Programming Priorities
Before you begin a resistance training program for older adults, you should obtain medical clearance from a qualified health care provider. Begin with a general warmup of five to 10 minutes of cardio. Focus on good mechanical execution early on, and perform all exercises slowly, moving joints through their full range of motion. The ACSM recommends that exercises should be progressive in nature, meaning you should increase the resistance as the individual becomes stronger. Programs should be individualized, and should involve all the major muscle groups. Exercises should be performed two to three times per week with at least one set of eight to 15 repetitions. Multiple sets may provide more benefits, and exercises that help with balance and posture should be practiced.

Understanding the needs and physical limitations of older adults is important for trainers who wish to tap into this lucrative and growing market. As always, W.I.T.S. is on the cutting edge, providing quality education to help you grow as a fitness professional. To learn more about training older adults, explore our Older Adult Fitness Specialist, Older Adult Fitness Foundations, and Able Bodies Balance Training courses, all available online.
References and Credits
American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise and the Older Adult

American College of Sports Medicine: Physiology of Aging.

Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism: Physical exercise and sarcopenia in older people: position paper of the Italian Society of Orthopaedics and Medicine

Osteoporosis International: Dose-response effect of 40 weeks of resistance training on bone mineral density in older adults.

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