Fact vs. Fiction: Strength Training for Seniors

By Tara Hackney for Athletico Physical Therapystrength training in seniors

Seniors cannot gain muscle mass.  (FALSE)

There is no age limitation on the body’s ability to gain strength or muscle mass. Resistance training at a higher intensity, above 60 percent of their one repetition maximum, has been shown to cause larger increases in strength in seniors. Strength training can increase the strength, mass, power and quality of muscle as well as improve endurance performance in seniors. Strength in seniors is important for performance of daily activities and to decrease the risk of falling which is a common cause of injury in this population.

Exercise improves cognitive function.  (TRUE)

Several studies have confirmed that both long-term exercise training and short-term (under 4 weeks) exercise training showed positive results on cognitive functions including memory, reading ability, attention and processing speed in people over the age of 60. The exercise program in these studies included aerobic exercise, strengthening exercises, and stretching at least three days per week. This combination of exercises appears to be the most effective for improving cognitive function.

Strength training in elderly individuals is not safe. (FALSE)

There is risk of injury with exercise at any age but there is no evidence that senior populations are at higher risk for injury than other age groups when performing strength training. For any individual beginning a strengthening program, education is important to ensure safety when using weight machines or free weights. Individuals should consider consulting their physician before starting any new exercise program, and should also be cautious about the number of repetitions and amount of resistance for their own safety and recovery after workouts.

An Athletico physical therapist or athletic trainer may be helpful to discuss strengthening programs for added safety. Contact your closest Athletico for a complimentary screening.

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