Strength training is important at any age. While it is best to have an active strength training regimen in your early 20′s or 30′s to offset muscle loss, even the elderly can reap the benefits of strength training.
If you are physically inactive, at age 30, you begin to lose 3 to 5% of your total muscle mass every decade. This rate doubles by the time you hit age 50. Imagine the impact of this decrease in muscle mass by the time you reach 70, and it’s easy to see why some elderly become frail and experience difficulty with even the simplest of daily activities. This decline can increase the risk of falls and decrease independence.
The loss of muscle also increases the likelihood of weight gain since the absence of muscle means that your body is burning less energy. So, even if you are not eating more, if you lack muscle, your body will store that food as fat versus convert it to muscle.
A decline in muscle strength does not have to be permanent, however. Research undertaken by Dr. Maria Fiatarone at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (HNRCA) in 1990 showed that adding weight or resistance training can greatly improve muscle strength in the elderly. Dr. Fiatarone worked with 10 elderly patients who agreed to take part in an eight week high intensity strength training program. By the end of the study, the patients showed increases in muscle strength, size and functional mobility.
You don’t need to lift heavy free weights to gain the benefits of resistance training. Even simple exercises, performed sitting in a chair or against a wall for balance, can provide great return. Use small barbells, weight adjustable ankle weights, or resistance bands daily and you’ll be surprised at how your increased strength will improve your ability to tackle activities in daily living.