Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterFall 2012

Build Strength and Retain Your Independence

Most of us know how important it is to continue to exercise regularly. But did you know that strength training is critical for maintaining your health and independence?

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With age, we progressively lose muscle tissue and gain body fat, which leads to loss of function and disability. Strength training helps build muscle and reduce fat while increasing strength, endurance, flexibility, and improving balance. It also creates greater bone density, improves glucose control, slows the gastrointestinal tract, and helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Never Too Late

It's never too late to benefit from this type of exercise. In one study, nursing-home patients aged 90 to 99 years showed increased strength of over 200 percent after participating in a supervised, muscle-strengthening program three times a week for three months.

Strength training is gentle enough for most people, but if you have concerns about its impact on your health, talk with your doctor about a program that's right for you. You may also be referred to a physical therapist if you have a condition that requires close supervision.

"An important factor in helping patients achieve their goals is teaching them to improve functional strength," says Group Health's Heather Morgenroth, who has a doctorate in physical therapy. "This type of exercise program allows them to perform tasks more easily, improve athletic performance, and prevent injury. Many people also experience increased self-confidence."

Getting Started

It's easy to get started. All you need are sturdy shoes, a chair, and some resistance bands or hand weights. Dr. Morgenroth suggests beginning with 15 to 30 minutes, two days a week. As you get stronger, add a third day. "Always exercise on nonconsecutive days so your muscles can recover while they're growing stronger," she says. "Perform the movements slowly with good control, and make sure you’re using proper form."

At first, choose a light weight (1 to 3 pounds is good for beginners) that will allow you to complete one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. If you can't do at least eight reps, go lighter. After a week, increase the weight so you can lift it at least 10 times with moderate difficulty. After two weeks, reevaluate the weight.

Whenever you increase the intensity — whether by adding repetitions or adding weight — increase by no more than 10 percent at a time, says Dr. Morgenroth. "Be aware that you should never experience sharp pain while performing an exercise. If you do, decrease the weight or modify how you're performing the move. Finding the right balance will prevent injury and produce results."

Keep Your Body Strong With These Easy Exercises

Warning: If you experience any sharp pain in your shoulder joints, decrease the resistance to a level where you can perform these exercises pain-free. If you continue to experience pain, switch to light dumbbells.

Knee bends using chair as supportKnee Bends: Holding onto the back of a chair for balance, slowly bend knees, keeping both feet on the floor. Repeat 10 times.









Leg lifts while seatedKnee Lifts: Sit with back supported. Straighten leg with weight on ankle (begin with 2 pounds). Slowly bend knee to return. Repeat 8–10 times, then change legs to complete one set of 8–10 lifts on each leg.









Raise arm with weight over headTriceps Extensions: Begin with 1 pound weight. Standing or sitting, raise the arm with weight so elbow is near ear. Support that arm with other hand and slowly straighten arm, then bend it. Change arms. Repeat 10 times.









Place one foot on resistance band and curl arms upwardBicep Curls: In a stride stance, place resistance band under front foot (begin with a low-intensity band). With palms facing forward, curl arms up toward chest. Repeat 10 times.


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