Is Weight Training Important for Older Adults?

by Nick Jack – No Regrets Personal Training.

Finally, the truth about weight training and its secrets.

My name is Nick Jack and I am owner of a Personal Training studio in Mitcham (No Regrets Personal Training) Victoria that specialises in teaching people how to improve strength for movements needed in daily life. 
More recently we have been having quite a few older adults join our training facility with their goal being “ I want to get stronger”. We now train at least 15 people aged over 75 years of age!

The interesting thing is the people who have been training with us consistently for years, who are aged 75+ seem much younger than the 75 year olds just starting out. The comparison is not even close. Why is that? Is it just because they had been exercising? Well, this depends on the type of exercise because we also found that the clients who were still active in their old age but were doing more cardio type activities and not weight training suffered from more postural and injury related problems and had the same appearance as the non training older adult!

Only the people who had adopted a good weight training program appeared much younger than their counterparts and suffered less injury, were more active and were leading a life similar to some 40 year olds. Notice I underlined the word good, and there is a good reason for this that I will share with you later.

In summary as the population continues to increase with age there is a dramatic increase in the % of people with disabilities, injury & other related health problems that could be prevented by adopting strength training in combination with healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits. If there is one thing that we need to live a productive and satisfying life well into old age it is functional capacity.

What is quite interesting is that it is also what most older adults want. We rarely get a 75-year-old saying, “ I want ripped abs”. It is usually “ I want to be able to walk up the stairs without having pain in my hip or feeling like I am going to fall over”. Basically our older clients ALL want to be able to do what they want without fear, limitation or pain. That is, they want function and only a Functional Strength Training method program in combination with nutrition and lifestyle components can achieve this.

The loss of muscle mass with advancing age, which is called sarcopenia, is an important factor to address because it can have a dramatic impact on functional capacity.

sarcopenia

Look at the picture of the legs on the left. The first one is the leg of a healthy, active person with a high level of functional capacity. They have worked to maintain their bodies through regular physical activity and exercise. Because of the strength and power they have they are easily capable of getting out of a chair, climbing stairs,

Hiking, playing tennis, gardening and many other necessary and enjoyable activities. This is typical of one of our clients who has been doing weight training for years. The leg in the middle is a person we regularly see. They have not been as active as they could or should have been and maybe only participated in random exercise throughout their life. Because of this they have lost an average amount of muscle mass and strength. They still can perform most activities of daily living without too much difficulty yet more vigorous and strenuous tasks are no longer possible. They have therefore modified their lifestyle so that they do not have to do these activities anymore. For example they stopped playing tennis because they just couldn’t keep up with their doubles partner or they changed houses to not have to walk up the stairs anymore. This person has a little difficulty even getting off a chair or getting up off the floor and need to find a way to use chairs or something around them to give them a little extra boost. They have lost a good deal of functional movement skills just to live an ordinary life.

These people are potential candidates for needing assisted living and are at risk of further decline into disability. The third leg shows someone who has lost a considerable amount of muscle mass. So much so that they are no longer capable of performing all of their activities of daily living. Now just simple movements such as bathing, toileting, shopping, working, dressing and other tasks have become hard and they need help with some or all of these. This is the rehab client we would get who needs a lot of support to just do simple movements.

There have been many studies that have demonstrated the capability of people as old as 100 years to build muscle through high-intensity resistance training. Even with all of these studies being completed many people still think that older adults are incapable of regaining muscle and strength. Some still think that lifting weights is dangerous. However the fitness industry know that weight training for combatting sarcopenia and building muscle mass is essential for improving function and avoiding disability. However many trainers fearing injury due to their clients lack of stability and strength use machines and isolated body building methods to improve strength. Which although they may achieve the goal of building muscle these movements do not improve the function of their clients, meaning they do not improve the way a person moves in real life.

Remember I said earlier that only the people on a good strength-training program showed great results. What I really meant was, only those on a functional strength-training program showed great results. 
For example being bolted to the floor and pushing a weight plate with your legs (Leg Press) does not teach the body how to stabilise the spine, pelvis, knee, and ankle in a standing position like a squat does! If anything it actually detrains your body making it dysfunctional as it now it thinks it does need stabilisers to lift heavy objects. This can be disastrous for new clients

Look at the examples below of comparisons of some of the exercises we use for Functional Strength Training and you will see how closely they mimic real life movements:

Lawnmower

lawnmower

Deadlift

deadlift

 

 

 

Step ups

stepups

A perfect example of an elderly client who can perform many exercises by adopting functional training techniques that we at No Regrets use is Laurie Ford. Laurie is 75 years old this year and still competes in Sailing competitions like the Melbourne To Hobart Yacht race which if anyone knows about sailing will tell how difficult that race is for a 30 year old yet alone a 75 year old. Laurie comfortably Squats with 80kg on his back, walk up stairs holding 10kg dumbbells, perform many complex single leg movements and he even learned how to perform a Dumbbell Single Arm Snatch! Laurie completes 3 x 30 minute Functional Strength Training sessions per week and has done so for a long time. As you can see this is his secret to not only staying in shape, but also maintaining great function to do the things he loves such as sailing and gym work. So if you are not strength training now, get started because it is never too late.

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References: Dan Ritchie & Cody Sipe, Dr Mercola (www.mercola.com)