"As we age, we slowly start to lose lean muscle mass, and resistance weight training is the only way to slow this down," said Dr. Robert Roush, associate professor of medicine – geriatrics at BCM. "It's never too late to start."
Frailty leads to falls, fractures
This age-related loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia. People between the ages of 25 and 60 who are physically inactive can lose about one-half of a percent of lean muscle mass per year. From age 60 to 70, the annual rate of loss doubles to about 1 percent. It doubles again during each decade of life. This eventually causes frailty in old age, making older adults more susceptible to falls and fractures, which limits their ability for self care. Through resistance weight training, older adults can slow down this loss of lean muscle mass and may even be able to restore it with enough sustained intensity and time.
Resistance weight training can consist of weight lifting, using weight machines or any other exercise activity that creates some sort of resistance. This should go along with a regular cardiovascular exercise plan, said Roush, who is also with the Huffington Center on Aging at BCM. He directs the Texas Consortium Geriatrics Education Center, one of 45 federally funded centers in the United States.
Always check with a qualified health care provider before starting any exercise routine. Try to find a gym with senior benefits or share a personal trainer with friends to learn proper technique. If a gym is not an option, try using stretch bands and dumbbells at home. Activities such as swimming, climbing stairs and walking at an incline can also provide resistance. Regardless of whether one goes to a health club or exercises at home, the key is to follow recommended regimens and proper technique.
Before you start
Roush offers these tips to older adults when starting resistance weight training:
- Get good information from web sites, books, physical therapists and personal trainers.
- Warm up before each exercise session with stretches and as much as five minutes of walking.
- Start low and go slow: start with low weights and slowly increase the pounds.
- Stop if you feel pain other than the resistance you expect to feel.
- Use resistance weight training only every other day, giving your muscles time to rest.
- Slowly increase your weight or repetitions per set until you feel real resistance.
- Keep records of which machines you use and muscle groups worked then rotate to other machines every six months or so
- Always cool down with stretches.
- If your doctor approves, take Ibuprofen either before you work out or the next day if you have soreness.
- If you're on vacation or "fall off the wagon," try to get back into your routine within two weeks, as any prolonged layoff reduces the benefits developed during the prior period of exercise.