Strength Training for Older Adults
As we get older, many of us become less physically active and gravitate towards more sedentary pastimes. This is often viewed as a natural, even an inevitable, change that comes with aging. Talk to any fitness expert, however, and you’ll quickly learn that regular exercise, including strength training, is a key part of staying healthy and mobile well into our golden years. And, contrary to what you might think, strength training is safe – even essential – for seniors.
The benefits of strength training
Strength training, also known as resistance training, involves working your muscles against weight or gravity. Here’s how it supports the health of older adults. You might be surprised – it’s not just about your muscles!
- Reduces age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia)
- Improves power (muscle response time) and walking speed
- Improves strength, endurance, function, balance and aerobic conditioning
- Helps muscles better use nutrients and oxygen (which reduces strain on the heart)
- Helps control blood sugar levels, which helps prevent type 2 diabetes
- Increases metabolism
- Helps maintain the loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
- Reduces the risk of falls and injuries
- Improves posture
- Helps manage the symptoms of chronic conditions, such as arthritis, back pain and depression
- Improves mental well-being and cognitive skills
- Improves quality of life
How to get started
The beauty of strength training is that you need not invest in expensive equipment or a pricey gym membership. You can do many of the exercises at home, using your own body weight, resistance tubing, hand-held weights and household objects, such as a chair.
- Body weight: You’re likely familiar with these exercises, which use your own weight for resistance and require no equipment: push-ups, squats, planks and pull-ups.
- Resistance tubing: This inexpensive piece of fitness equipment is available at sporting goods stores (such as SportChek and Fitness Depot) and department stores (such as Canadian Tire), or online (Amazon.ca, Well.ca, etc.).
- Free weights: Dumbbells or barbells are also readily available at many retail stores and online vendors. Start with lighter weights. You can even use soup cans at first.
- Weight machines: There are different kinds of weight or resistance machines, designed for different exercises and muscle groups. If possible, try weight machines at a fitness or recreation centre before you invest.
For safety, always consult your physician before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have any health conditions or have been inactive for a long time. Then start slowly and work your way up to at least two strength training sessions each week, as recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults aged 65 and older. To get started, you could follow Diabetes Canada’s resistance exercise plan, which features mostly seated exercises (helpful for people with mobility challenges or who are new to exercising). Increase the weight or resistance of the exercises as you get stronger.
To help prevent muscle injury, remember to warm up (with brisk walking or five to 10 minutes of aerobic activity). Move slowly and with good control, and stay within a comfortable range of motion. Remember to breathe! And if you feel any pain during your workouts, reduce the amount of weight or resistance, or stop exercising and try again with a lighter weight another day.
More strength training options
Check around your community for strength training classes – it can be helpful to learn from a certified fitness instructor, and it’s fun to exercise in a group setting. Community centres, fitness centres, seniors’ facilities and city recreational programs may offer instruction in strength training and other types of exercise.
You can also access online resources, including videos that demonstrate different exercises, in the comfort of your own home.
See “Additional resources,” below, for free resources from reputable sources.
The Power of Strength Training for Older Adults (Active Aging Canada)
This pamphlet, written by a kinesiology professor at the University of Manitoba, discusses the benefits of strength training and offers tips to safely get the best results.
Strength training: How-to video collection (Mayo Clinic)
This site offers dozens of helpful videos of exercises that use body weight, resistance tubing, free weights or weight machines.
Bayshore Home Health offers a wide range of home care services to help Canadians live independently for as long as possible. Contact us at 1-877-289-3997 for details.