- 12th September 2018
- By Matthew Fever
Age is often a barrier to exercise and things of a physical nature. ‘Not at my age!’ ‘I’m too old for all that’, these are just some of the things I hear from time to time when I’m working with people on the gym floor.
Of course, there are a number of things to consider as we age with regards to exercise and training. You may not be able to perform certain activities, exercises will no doubt need to be adapted to a suitable level and things will probably feel more difficult than they once did, however there will exist a version of an exercise or programme that you can perform, find it and begin there!
Meet sisters, Heather (70) and Linda (71). I have had the pleasure of working with these ladies for some time now and they are a great example that age does not necessarily need to be a barrier to training. Now into their 70’s, Heather and Linda still attend the gym on a regular basis, more importantly, they are still strength training.
I was a little surprised when just last week Linda reminded me of her age, this was just after she managed to deadlift her bodyweight of 62.5kg! Heather then proceeded to do the same. I couldn’t help but find this an inspiration. I am sure, like myself, we all want to continue enjoying certain activities as we age. As it happens, you might not be too old to start yourself!
As we advance into our later years, the body goes through a series of changes such as sarcopenia (loss of muscle cells), increased body fat, reduced flexibility and a loss of general performance, however it can still adapt to training under the right conditions, just not as effectively as in our younger years.
Most people by the time they reach a certain age will have accumulated their fair share of injuries and problems, either through living an active life or not doing enough. However, over time we tend to become more sedentary and those that have continued to exercise regularly may find that they are unable to match the same volume and intensity as in their younger years. This reduction in physical activity leads to atrophy (a loss of muscle mass) and a decrease in mobility.
The standards these days for training older adults are often low and many fitness programmes tend to be based around cardiovascular activities such as walking and cycling, which is great for maintaining a healthy heart and lungs, however less focus is given to strength training and the positive effects in can bring. It is strength training that allows us to continue to interact with our environment and enjoy the things we used to when we were younger. Having the ability to perform basic movements such as squatting down, lifting things overhead, picking things off the floor, and carrying heavy things should be the basis of any strength programme, especially the ageing adult. Activities like gardening, shopping, enjoying holidays, playing with the grandchildren can all present problems for weaker older people. Strength training and regular exercise can be very empowering and allows people to maintain independence.
For those looking to improve their strength it is important to understand exactly what it is. Strength is simply the ability to produce force. In order to get stronger the body must be exposed to sufficient stress (increased loading) that is gradually progressed over time. Weight training allows this process to occur. Activities such as walking and cycling provide other benefits however the level of force production required to perform these movements is very low and does little to get the body stronger. Increased strength is only one of the benefits of regular weight training. A proper strength programme will improve all aspects of fitness, including balance which is crucial as we age. Most importantly it aids in the preservation of muscle mass and bone density.
If you are going to take the time to head to the gym and lift weights it makes sense to train the body in a way that carries over to everyday tasks. Movements such as:
Squatting – sitting and standing
Pressing – lifting things overhead
Hinging – lifting things off the ground
Pulling – lifting the body up or pulling things towards you
Carrying – lifting things for distance
Individual requirements will vary but where possible rather than performing lots of isolated movements for individual body parts the body should be trained as a system, as one piece. This will allow for greater force to be produced, more muscle mass to be utilised and require more co-ordination to perform.
I have had the opportunity over the years to work with many people in their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s! My experiences have shown that the loss of strength can be slowed down. Those that haven’t trained before in the weights room can actually make good improvement in a relatively short period of time. So perhaps its not too late to get started! Find a good coach, learn the basic movements and get yourself stronger. I’m sure you will be amazed at the positive effects it will have on your life.