Weightlifting can help seniors, too

It’s debatable whether or not explorer Ponce de Leon really found The Fountain of Youth in the 1500s.

While there is no magic potion for staying young today, I can tell you without question the closest thing to it: exercise and a good diet.

When people ask me if it’s OK for senior citizens to train with weights, I not only say “yes” but add “they should lift weights by all means.”

I’ve seen the benefits firsthand in my own family and also in talking to many trainers and doctors. Weightlifting programs for seniors should obviously be tweaked as they get older, but even lifting light dumbbells and using light weights on a home gym machine can make a huge difference.


Why weight training is important for older people

Once we hit about age 40, muscles get atrophied and will continue to lose mass.

That is, unless people exercise, lift weights and eat right.

My dad is 68 years old and has regularly worked out since his 30s. It’s nothing for him to work out for an hour a day with free weights and kettle bells, or go on a 20-mile bike ride. His waist line is more trim than some of the teenagers I see walking around eating burgers at the local mall. 

My grandma is 92 and walks three times a day in 15-minute increments. She used a rowing machine and light dumbbells into her 80s.

They both clearly have good genetics, too, but their dedication to physical fitness has no doubt been the biggest key to staying healthy.

When people say “use it or lose it” it’s most true about fitness.

Working out with free weights, machine weights or resistance machines improves many areas:

* posture stability

* prevents falls by improving balance

* strengthens bones and reduces risk of fractures

* improves muscular endurance and lets people better control symptoms of arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes,  back pain and even depression.

* Working out can even improve your overall outlook on life and make you feel better. If you maintain fitness levels in your golden years, it can help you keep a healthy, independent life much longer.


Weight training tips for seniors

While the benefits are proven time after time of working out with weights for seniors, it’s important to also be smart about it.

* Consult a doctor before beginning any significantly different fitness routine than you’re used to.

* A good stretching program is as important as any aspect of physical training, especially for seniors. It can take a lot longer to heal the older you are.

* Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time and use correct form.

* Ask a doctor or trainer for correct weightlifting techniques and how to set up a weekly routine. One of the most basic tips is to keep your head up and looking straight ahead for standing lifts and use your legs instead of your back to avoid strains. 


Remember that if you begin a physical fitness program at any age you can maintain your current muscle tone much longer and in many cases even improve it.

Weight training will put more demands on your body than regular-old couch potatoes, but that’s OK. Combined with a proper diet, you should actually have more energy than your used to.


At Home Fitness consultant Aaron Dorksen’s blog deals with a variety of fitness topics, ranging from workout tips, motivational ideas and feature stories on how exercise impacts people’s lives. E-mail him with comments, questions or ideas for future blogs at aaron@athomefitness.com