healthAbility Exercise Physiologist Tim Lathlean outlines the importance of strength training for seniors and the benefits of regular exercise.

Importance of strength and aerobic exercise

The ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL) is vital to living independently. Activities of Daily Living include routine actions like dressing, eating and walking. These activities can be affected by changes in your body as you age. You may experience cardiovascular changes due to ageing that involve reduced maximal heart rate and function, capillary density and limb blood flow, and increased blood pressure (BP).

Strength changes include a progressive decline in skeletal muscle function, due to atrophy and neurologic changes, resulting in fatigue.  These age-related changes play a role in the process of a condition called sarcopenia, a reduction in muscle mass and strength. Sarcopenia is thought to contributes to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Older adults with sarcopenia may be more vulnerable to infection than those with a normal muscle mass.

Strength training

Long-term resistance training in older adults results in enhanced muscle and heart function, with beneficial effects in body composition, cardiovascular disease, insulin action, bone health, energy metabolism, psychological health, and independence.  Furthermore, exercise may result in similar benefits to those achieved by taking painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs, but with much fewer side effects.  As a result, exercise is essential for improving physical function in older adults. It also slows down the age-related changes and issues that may limit physical independence.

Functional Training

Functional strength training is defined as purposeful training that incorporates multiple joints, dynamic tasks, and alternated base of support. Functional Training may be the best option for improving older adults ability to perform Activities of Daily Living.

Functional training attempts to train muscles in coordinated movements that are similar to daily tasks, such as standing up from a chair, vacuuming, or hanging the washing out. These activities all require cooperation between multiple muscle groups.

The goal of exercise is to reduce pain, improve physical function and optimize daily living through a mix of both relatively simple and complex movements. Simple movements include quadriceps muscle strengthening and aerobic walking programs. More complex movements include upper limb and/or abdominal muscle strengthening, balance and coordination in addition to lower limb muscle strengthening.

Benefits of regular exercise:

  1. Increases average life expectancy through potential reductions in disease development and slowing down of the age-related effects on health and wellbeing.
  2. Improves the ability to perform Activities of Daily Living.
  3. Weight loss, a loss of greater than 5% can lead to significant improvements in disability in people with knee osteoarthritis.
  4. Strength exercise, particularly abdominal exercises, is more effective than aerobic exercise for decreasing lower back pain intensity and improving physical function.
  5. May prevent loss of, or promoting gains in Bone Mineral Density (BMD) and may enhance whole bone strength, independent of changes in BMD.
  6. People who practise resistance training may be up to 34% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which includes including high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and insulin resistance conditions.
  7. Long-term exercise may reduce systolic blood pressure (the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats) in adults with metabolic syndrome. This can lead to a reduction of stroke mortality by approximately 10% and mortality from heart disease by approximately 7%.

Find out about healthAbility’s Strong People Stay Young program, which focuses on the model developed by Dr Miriam Nelson for the prevention of osteoporosis, diabetes and improving your general health and wellbeing.






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