The Right Workout Can Stave Off Disability

Strength training shown to reduce physical disability in older adults

Senior WorkoutMuscle tone is important for so many reasons. For one, muscle tissue constantly uses energy, so the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Simply put, this means your body burns more calories when you’re at rest, keeping you trim without you even breaking a sweat!

In addition, strong muscle tone helps prevent osteoporosis and reduces the symptoms associated with arthritis. And on a more “superficial” note, having a lean, muscular body is much more attractive and healthy looking than the alternative.

Having strong muscles becomes especially important as you get older. With increasing age, muscle mass and strength tend to diminish. With weaker muscles comes the increased risk of falls, broken bones, and conditions like the aforementioned arthritis and osteoporosis. This age-related muscle deterioration is, unfortunately, pretty normal. The great news is that it can be stopped and reversed by adding strength training to your exercise routine.

More Muscle, Less Disability

Countless studies confirm the seemingly endless benefits of strength training in older adults. However, even with all those studies, researchers in Sydney, Australia, could not find conclusive evidence that building muscles through strength and resistance training could translate into a reduction of physical disability. So they conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate the effect of progressive resistance strength training (PRT) on physical disability in older adults.[1]

After searching through studies performed from January 1966 through May 2007, they included 33 trials (for a total of 2,172 participants) in their meta-analysis. The mean age of the participants ranged from 65 to 85 years. The most common frequency of PRT was three times a week, and programs ranged from six to 78 weeks. PRT programs were most commonly held in gym settings using weight-training equipment, or at home using elastic resistance bands.

After reviewing the results of the 33 chosen studies, researchers concluded that PRT has “a small but significant effect in improving physical disability in older adults.” And in studies of patients with osteoarthritis, a more substantial beneficial effect was found in favor of PRT.

Make Popeye Proud

Basically, these findings reaffirm the fact that strength training should be a part of everyone’s workout routine — especially the older you get. Physical disability is an unfortunate reality in older populations. So the more you can do to allow faster healing if you do fall victim to a disability — or prevent disability in the first place — the better off you’ll be in the long term.

If strength training isn’t part of your workout regimen, slowly start adding it in. You don’t have to become a professional body builder. Your goal should simply be to continually challenge your muscles so they get stronger.

Lifting weights is the most obvious way you can build muscle. But there are plenty of ways to train your muscles that don’t include dumbbells or curl bars. You can use elastic resistance bands, which are a great option if you are a beginner. You can also use your own body to build muscle. Exercises like pushups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, and bench dips don’t use anything but your own body weight, and they are extremely effective at building muscle.

If your budget allows, hiring a personal trainer, even if it’s only for a session or two, can be an excellent way to learn various strength and resistance exercises, as well as proper form for each. Or, if you belong to a gym, take strength or resistance classes there. If you prefer to work out at home — or if you are on a budget — there are hundreds (actually, probably more like tens of thousands!) of strength training and muscle toning DVDs on the market.

Whatever your method, now is the time to start working on those muscles. (Just be sure to check with your doctor before you start any workout program.) The better your muscle tone now, the healthier, stronger, and more resilient you’ll be years down the road.


[1] Keuerleber J and Henschke N. Progressive resistance strength training can reduce physical disability in older adults. Br J Sports Med. 2012 Apr;46(5):323–324.

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