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Strength Training Reduces Muscle Loss and Falls in Seniors

Falling is the number one leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults. Millions of seniors fall every year and more than 3 million are treated in emergency departments every year, with about 800,000 of those being admitted. Many of these falls are due to loss of muscle and bone density which could be prevented with strength training and exercise.

Each year after age 30, we lose an average of 1 percent of lean body mass and maximal oxygen uptake or VO2Max. Between 70 and 80 years of age, we lose three times that rate.

This loss of muscle mass and VO2Max, known as sarcopenia, is a primary cause of disability from falls and hip fractures and premature death as we age. Exercise has been shown to reduce sarcopenia, but not all types of physical activity are the same when it comes to gaining muscle. What is the number one way to increase lean body mass and reduce sarcopenia? Resistance exercise and strength training is the best type of exercise and should be a priority for those of us who find ourselves on the mailing list of the AARP.

There are some important guidelines to discuss before you get started: If you’re 50 or older and currently do not exercise, check in with your doctor as he or she may recommend an exercise stress test prior to starting. This is especially important if you have cardiovascular disease risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, pulmonary disease like asthma and rheumatologic disease like arthritis.

Healthcare providers usually offer these general principles for older adults who want to start a resistance training program.

  • Seniors should investigate types of strength training including lifting weights (machines or free weights), body resistance (push ups, sit ups, pull ups) and straps (suspension trainers, resistance bands).
  • It is important to stretch active muscles in both periods, and the warm-up session should include progressive muscle strengthening.
  • Warm-up and cool-down periods should be twice as long for seniors. Rather than 5 to 10 minutes for warmup and 5 to 10 minutes for cool down, optimal warm-up activities should last 10 to 20 minutes, and 10 to 20 minutes should be designated to the cool-down period.
  • Move the resistance through the entire range of motion and avoid heavy lifting. To learn proper technique, you should have an orientation session with an exercise trainer or join a physical therapy training class.
  • The average frequency should be three days per week and the individual should wait at least 48 hours between training sessions.
  • Older adults need a longer rest period between sets in traditional strengthening (1 to 2 minutes) as well as safe physical environments are necessary.
  • Never work through pain. If you develop pain during a lift or movement, stop the exercise and rest. Consult a doctor if the pain persists.
  • Do not hold your breath during a strenuous movement but breathe regularly throughout the range of motion.

Strength training is the best way to reverse the effects of aging and sarcopenia. In a book published by the Centers For Disease Control called “Growing Stronger – Strength Training for Older Adults,” it is the most complete easy to read way to get started with resistance exercise. By doing this type of exercise, you will build strength to maintain bone density improve balance, coordination, and mobility which will reduce your risk of falling maintain independence in performing activities of daily life.

For more information on sarcopenia and fall risk and prevention in older adults, you can call Kaizen Physical Therapy at (941) 315-6182, or visit their website.

* Most insurances are accepted at Kaizen Physical Therapy, including Medicare and most Medicare Replacement products. Please check with your insurance company to ascertain if our office participates with your insurance. You may also contact our office for more information.

fall risk, Kaizen Physical Therapy, sarcopenia, seniors, Strength Training

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