There was a very interesting study done recently that involved seniors and weight training. The demographic targeted in the study was seniors between 87 and 96 years old. The study took place in a senior home. They began the seniors on a weight training program that had them lift whatever weight they could manage and slowly increased the weight over an eight week period. They increased their strength by almost 200%. Talk about weight lifting for seniors who want to pump some serious iron.
In study after study seniors showed a remarkable positive reaction to resistance training. Another study done by the University of Vermont had results no less spectacular. The study involved seniors 65 to 79. After 12 weeks of weight training, the subjects could walk 40% further without a rest.
THE REASON FOR THESE AMAZING RESULTS
First of all, these seniors were perfect examples that it’s very possible to regain muscles that were lost many years before. The medical term for losing muscle mass as we age is called Sarcopenia. This process begins in the mid-’30s.
Muscle mass slowly begins to slip away. It makes sense that the less active a person is, the more muscle mass they will lose. The process speeds up considerably at ages 65 to 75.
What the seniors in these studies did in effect was let their bodies know that they were not done yet. The message they sent was that they still needed to have strong muscles in order to deal with the increased demands they made on their muscles by weight lifting. The more they lifted and the longer they lifted, the stronger they became.
People can’t seem to grasp that they are the boss of their bodies. Every signal they send is assimilated by their body. Whether you smoke, drink, have a great diet or poor diet, are active or sedentary, these are all signals you are sending to your body.
Should you choose to eat far more calories than you burn, your body will assume you are eating this way for a purpose. It will gladly store excess calories as fat for future use. Normally, this excess fat is spread around the waist for easy access and spreads out from there.
If you choose to spend most of your time parked in front of the television and buy into the belief that you worked all your life and now it’s time to rest, your body will gladly accommodate you.
When it senses that you no longer have a need for strong muscles, it will let them soften or atrophy will set in. If it senses that your heart does not have to be really strong to pump blood to working muscles, because the muscles are not working, it will let your heart grow weaker.
It’s all about checks and balances.
Just think about it. What’s the first thing that will most likely happen when someone is suddenly relegated to a wheelchair? Muscle atrophy sets in because their body senses right away that there is no need for strong leg muscles because those muscles are not being used at all.
By the same token, their upper bodies will get stronger because they are pushing themselves around in the wheelchair on a daily basis.
THE BENEFIT OF WEIGHT TRAINING FOR SENIORS
If a senior strengthens leg muscles, they are creating a powerful weapon against future disabilities, including the inability to walk. That is a very strong message and for that fact alone I feel all seniors should be involved in weight training. Increased mobility is just the start of the many benefits of weight training.
Balance and agility will improve substantially if weight training is done on a regular basis. The benefit of improved balance is that seniors will fall less often. Falling is very serious and it’s something seniors are prone to, especially if their balance is poor and their muscles are weak.
There was another study done at Tufts University involving seniors and weight training. They found that senior women who lifted weights for one year showed a 14% improvement in balance. A control group of senior women who didn’t lift weights at all in the same one year period showed a 9% decline in balance. That’s a shift of 23%
You get much more than bigger and stronger muscles when you weight train. The ligaments and tendons that surround your joints become stronger and more flexible as well. Strength training will increase the range of motion and decrease joint pain. Normal challenges like climbing stairs or walking become far easier.
BRAIN POWER IS ALSO IMPROVED
When you weight train or do any exercise, in general, there is a positive impact on the brain. During exercise, neurotransmitters are stimulated. Regular fitness can help reduce or even eliminate depression and almost all other emotional stress that people deal with during the course of their everyday lives.
From past experience, I learned just how powerful the positive mental impact can be. I almost always had this remarkable high after a session of invigorating exercise. it was a high that no drug could duplicate, and was more like a sense of well-being. I could almost feel my body saying, “thanks for looking after me.” After all, if we don’t look after our bodies, who will?
That saying, “use it or lose it” actually makes a lot of sense. If you do nothing to improve your fitness and body strength your body will fall into a state of disrepair. The end result is that you will get progressively weaker. It’s not long before you open the door to a host of medical conditions that could easily have been avoided.
The powerful heart of your youth will become a mere shadow of itself. Arteries will harden and bones will become brittle. The simple act of everyday functions will become more and more difficult.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE FOR CHANGE
The amazing thing about the body is that it’s never too late to get a handle on your fitness. Your body will immediately sense that you are making new demands on it, and it will do it’s very best to please you. It senses your increased activity and the need to strengthen and improve to meet the new demands you are making on it. In other words, it will become stronger if you ask it to.
In one of the books that I wrote, I called the human body a miracle of creation. People don’t realize that their body reacts to every single thing they do. Take for example a person who is suddenly struck blind. Almost immediately all their other senses become more fine-tuned.
They can hear better, smell better, and their sense of touch is more acute. Their body is on high alert to make up for the loss of sight. Dangers that might be obvious to sighted people are hidden from blind people, so their heightened senses take up the slack. They can feel the heat, smell smoke, and hear sounds that might signal danger.
That’s why it’s never too late to make a change for the better when it comes to your level of fitness. Walk, run, or do any number of fitness exercises and your heart and cardiovascular system will immediately start improving and strengthening to meet the demands you are placing on it.
It’s no different from weight training. Challenge your body by slowly increasing the amount of weight you can lift, pull, or push, and your body will respond by strengthening muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. It’s not really rocket science. It’s not really all that complicated. Just ask your body to do more on many levels and it will do all it can to accommodate you.
THE BASICS OF WEIGHT TRAINING
The old school of thought when it comes to weight lifting was that three times a week was optimal. So for example, most people would life weights Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tuesday, Thursday and the weekend would be rest, recovery, and muscle rebuilding days.
Hardcore weight lifters will often lift weights five or six times a week. They will alternate between upper and lower bodyweight workouts. While the upper body is resting and recovering they concentrate on the arm, back, chest, and shoulder exercises. On alternate days they work on the lower body and rest the upper body.
In recent years, it’s been discovered that you can actually vastly improve your strength by weight lifting just once or twice a week. The idea is to do two sets of each exercise with the second set being done to failure. In other words, say you are doing barbell curls. I lift an amount of weight that allows me to finish one set fairly easily, but once the muscles are taxed, I have to really work to do all ten repetitions of the second set.
Often I can’t finish the second set.
That’s the whole idea. The last few repetitions that are very hard and really stress the muscles are the ones that make you stronger. Eventually, your muscles will strengthen and you will be able to finish both sets. At that point, you increase the weight a small amount and continue on doing your two sets of each exercise. Once again you should really have to work to finish both sets of ten.
Personally, I do two sets of ten repetitions and do five different exercises. I rest about three minutes in between each set of ten repetitions. My exercises include bench press, behind the neck press, barbell curls, bent over rowing for the upper body, and squats for the lower body.
I have been lifting weights twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday. That works well for me and I have seen vast improvements in my strength. On all five exercises, I am lifting 20 pounds more than the weight I started with.
START SLOW AND EASY
If you decide to start weight lifting, be sure to start our slow with weights that you can easily handle. If you lift too much too soon you could end up being very sore and quite possibly become discouraged. Your body will go through a bit of an adjustment period and that’s perfectly normal.
I think a good choice would be to start out by lifting weights twice a week and follow the basic plan I use. Pick about five exercises and make sure you do both upper and lower body exercises. I highly recommend that seniors do hamstring and quad exercises to increase their leg strength and balance. I do the squat exercise for lower body and that works well for me and may for you as well
If you plan on weight lifting at home, I highly recommend getting yourself a weight lifting bench with attachments for doing your leg exercises.
In the event you are new to weight lifting, I would recommend you clear it with your doctor and have a fitness instructor help set up a program for you.
An instructor can show you the best exercises for you and how to do them properly. Once you have a program and know how the exercises are to be done, you will be able to do them on your own.
For some seniors, doing exercises with their own bodyweight might be the best way to start. As they gain strength, they can begin adding extra weight.
For example, you could do squats without any weight at all, and then perhaps progress to doing squats using just the weight lifting bar. From there you could add some weights to the bar.
Either way, you will be well on your way to getting stronger and healthier and will be joining the ranks of weight lifting for seniors who want to pump some serious iron.
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