Thursday, January 19, 2017

Exercise for Older Adults

I was asked recently about exercise and strength training for older adults. Since I know several people in their 60s on into the 90s and I plan on going past that mark, looking into this seems to make sense. Joe Weider lived to 93 when he died. Jack La Lane was 96 when he died. Charles Atlas made it to 82. A couple of my grandparents lived past their contemporaries and cohorts. Well past them. Both of my mother’s parents made it into their 90s. They played tennis, swam, walked, bicycled, and kept very active.
So, I wanted to be able to answer this question in a more precise manner. In order to do so I broke Strength Training into weight training, flexibility, endurance, and balance as these seem to be the primary areas that impact older adults. But, first, talk to your healthcare provider.

Regular strength training done at 2 to 3 times a week is shown to increase muscle and bone density/strength … increase levels of independence … reduce osteoporosis risks … reduce signs and risks of chronic diseases to include arthritis and type 2 diabetes … improve seep … also stave off depression. I wrote about how exercise is better than medication in fighting depression (insert link here). As shown in study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. There are several other studies that confirm this. Even the CDC holds that strength training will reduce your risk of falling.
Overall, strength training is a positive endeavor to start with your doctor’s permission and with supervision so as not to get into trouble. Be careful, though, if considering endurance training in addition to strength training. This may be too much for the system of the older trainee. Until your body has completely adjusted to what you are doing, take it one step at a time. Enjoy your new lifestyle of hitting the gym. Just, don’t overdo it.
The type of exercises that would be best are likely to be those your doctor would recommend. For many reasons, safety being the primary one, it is highly recommended that you use machines that will provide you physical safety. The other option is to adapt body weight training to your level. CDC recommendations back this up. With the purchase of a doorframe pull up bar you can do wall push-ups and Australian pull-ups/chin-ups in the comfort of your own home and in safety.
Let me stress two very, very important points here and now. First, do not do this without first talking to your doctor. Second, do NOT hold your breath while performing repetitions. This can make you pass out and get injured. Inhale when the muscle group is extending and exhale when it is contracting.
Wall push-ups or using a door-jam pull-up bar are a great exercise to rebuild strength in your upper body. Place your hands against the wall, or set your bar at an appropriate and safe starting height, that allows you to do 15 repetitions. You should complete 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, but not to a point of straining yourself. [Find a picture]
For Australian (see the picture to the left) pull-ups/chin-ups the bar will need to be set in the doorway at a height that will allow you to hold hand at an angle, as shown in the picture. This is more like an inverted rowing exercise than an actual pull-up or chin-up; however, it will help build the strength necessary to complete a full on pull-up again.
For the lower body, your legs, nothing beats the squat. Grab onto the back of a sturdy chair, place your feet about shoulders width, keep your back straight and shoulders back a little. Now, look up at a spot on the ceiling and focus on that one spot. Keeping your head up is paramount. I was a competitive lifter and can assure you this one detail can make the difference in keeping your body in the right position. Breathe easy. Inhale and squat down as far as your body will allow you to. You know what pains and aches are injuries. You know where you need to stop. So long as you keep your head up, shoulders back, and your knees above or just behind your toes your form is fine.
The repetition range for squats is 10 to 12. The goal is to comfortably settle into your squat. Maybe going a little bit deeper each week or two. That will depend upon how your body reacts. That, and how your doctor reacts.
The above home directions work well. If you have access to a gym, then go for it! May facilities are seeing older clients come in. The equipment at gyms these days can help you along your way. If, for whatever reason, you can’t access a gym, then you have some basic instructions to start with … so long as your doctor gives you the thumbs up.
            Stretching leads to flexibility. Flexibility is as important to older adults is very important. As we age our muscles and tendons become shorter and less elastic. Stretching will help in staving off these age related changes. Most older adults can safely stretch. Here are some guidelines:
   Warm up first
Stretching needs to be static, that is no bouncing. Ease into the stretch and hold it for the duration of the count
Breathe through the stretch
Do not turn and bend
Do not push your head backwards while doing head or neck rolls as this may damage the vertebra
For a list and demonstration of stretches for older adults follow this link here.

              As with the strength exercises, endurance training is beneficial for adults in this demographic, also. Having the capacity to get through the day, completing all the activities of daily living, going out with friends, seeing family, preparing meals, maintaining your own living areas, and many other and more enjoyable activities will certainly improve the quality of your life. Accomplishing this safely is the paramount intention.
                This goal, increasing endurance safely, is done by increasing heart and breathing rates for increasing periods of time daily. Of course it does not mean full bore sprinting or maximum intensity, goodness no. It means slightly elevating your heart and breathing rates.
                The National Institute for Health suggests starting off with five to ten minutes of an activity that results in getting your heart and breathing rates up. Slowly and steadily work your way from five or ten minutes up to two and half hours for the recommended levels of endurance.
   The general rule of thumb is that if you are breathing too hard to talk with your partner then you are going too hard or fast and need to slow down a little bit. You should be just under that level where you have enough breath to talk with your training partner, but that is about it.
                What kind of activities are good for aerobics? There are plenty to choose from. Some choices are stationary biking, rowing machine, swimming, water aerobics, dance classes, museum walks, YMCA groups, yoga, and/or tai chi. Of course, getting outside in the fresh air has its own benefits. Additionally, there is a plethora of other outdoor activities you can get involved with outside.

 Believe it or not, learning, rather, re-learning how to balance is actually quite simple. Understand that our balance system is in three parts. That is we balance by input from three regions of our body. These three are visual, feet, and vestibular. 
The way they work is rather simple. Our feet and the nerves in them tell us how our body is aligned in general terms with our body. You will notice this when going through some fun house set ups at carnivals when the floor tilts a little. As the floor tilts one way our upper body shifts to the other side automatically in order to compensate.
Visually is a bit harder to recognize, although sailors will know it immediately. As the horizon tilts and moves so does our body to allow for the tilting of the ship. This also happens inside the vessel so that we don't lose balance in heavy seas. Yes, this is a more extreme example, but it should get the point across. 
The vestibular system is a collection of small tubes of fluid between the eardrum and the brain. It is inside our skull. These fluid filled tubes tell our brains which direction out heads are tilting, how far, and how much or fast we are spinning. 
With that said, training to balance is as easy as can be. Grab onto the back of a solid chair for stability. Slightly bend one knee. Do not lock your knees. Now, lift one foot off the floor a few inches. Just lift it two or three inches so that it is off the floor. Shift your hips and weight over your supporting foot. Hold this for about ten seconds. Put your foot down and do it again on the other foot. Repeat this three or four times on each foot. Let me say that this is easy enough to do while your are going about your day. You can practice while standing in line at the grocery store, in the aisle while considering what to buy, just about anywhere. It's too easy.
So there you have it, some basics on strength training, endurance, flexibility, balance training for the older adult. The best advice is to start young and keep up that lifestyle. The next best tip is to start now. You are never too old to not benefit.
From the No-Cost, No-Frills, No-Excuses, Basement Gym Train Safe. Train Hard. Train for Life.
Stay strong. Stay safe. Train hard.

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