It seems like all too often we hear on the news about older individuals taking nasty falls causing severe damage and trauma. Falls among the elderly population is the leading cause of injury and fatality in the US. In fact, according to the CDC, one in four individuals aged 65 and older report at least one fall per year.
Loss of Muscle Mass
There are a variety of factors that contribute to the increased likelihood of elderly falls such as medication side effects, impaired vision, or chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s. However, one of the main reasons is increased frailty due to loss of muscle mass. The progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, known as sarcopenia, is strongly correlated with falls as an older adult. Sarcopenia is often due to the slowed regeneration of muscle fibers and the loss of motor neurons with age.
What is Resistance Training?
Although the elderly population is at risk for falls due to muscle atrophy, it can be prevented and maintained. Resistance training is a form of exercise that increases muscular strength and endurance. Resistance training causes muscles to contract, creating an increased number of cross-bridges within the muscle fibers. This ultimately leads to muscle cell enlargement, or hypertrophy.
Benefits for the Older Population
There are many benefits of resistance training for the aging population. Increasing muscle mass improves the stability of joints and balance, which is key for carrying out activities of daily life such as carrying groceries, walking up the stairs, and standing up from a chair. Increased muscle mass by resistance training can also improve flexibility and joint range of motion. Increased range of motion is important because it allows the muscles to stretch to their full potential.
This makes simple tasks such as reaching for a glass on the top shelf much easier for older individuals, allowing them to be more independent. Resistance training can also improve the psychological well-being of older adults by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
Clearly resistance training is just as important for the elderly population as aerobic training, so how frequently should older adults engage in resistance training? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, lower to moderate intensity resistance training of 65% – 75% of maximum exercise capacity is recommended for adults 65 and older to increase muscle mass. On two to four days per week, three sets of 10 -15 repetitions with lower weight is ideal for older adults to build strength. Resistance training sessions of about 30 minutes per session has been shown to deliver the best results for older adults to increase muscle mass.
Resistance training is critical for older adults to improve their functional abilities to prevent serious injuries and potentially fatal falls. Don’t know where to start? Ask your stretch therapist for advice. We are all certified personal trainers who have either worked as, or worked with strength coaches, yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, powerlifting instructors, boxing/kickboxing instructors, and bodybuilding coaches. We love the health industry, and are more than happy to help, or at the very least point you in the right direction.
Written by Megan Davenport. Megan is a Stretch Therapist in our Newton, MA studio. Click here to book a session with her.