Age is just a number. However, with advancing age, there are a lot of changes happening in a person’s metabolism and physiological condition. The body composition analysis of an aged person reveals these changes. It is a common observation that the elderly start to lose muscle mass with their age, and tend to put on more body fat. With low lean muscle comes low muscle strength, low aerobic capacity and a low bone mass density. All these, together, lead to the general sense of reduced stamina, strength, and well-being.
Osteoporosis and Bone Health
Bones are like the structural support system of a living body. We can say that bones give the basic shape to one’s body. What it also means is that when bones break, it leads to improper shape and structure of a specific body part, or even of the whole body itself. You may have noticed that most old people suffer from improper bone structure and various associated orthopedic problems. This is largely due to a disease that affects the body with advancing age – Osteoporosis.
What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a disease where decreased bone strength increases the risk of a bone breakage. Bones that commonly break are the ones in the forearm, backbone, or hip. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms for this degenerative disease – the bones may gradually weaken to such a degree that any abnormal or heavy impact shatters them. The only thing that can be noticed beforehand is chronic pain and an inability to perform normal activities. That is the only tell-tale sign of the onset of this disease.
Osteoporosis, today, has become a major health issue in the world. The contamination in food and resultant leaching away of nutrition (due to the use of chemicals and pesticides) is harming humanity in ways we have not imagined so far.
No symptoms – As mentioned above, there are no such symptoms for this, then how can someone actually make sure that they do not face such problems in their old age? Of course, you will see people supplementing calcium in their diet to keep the bones healthy, but is that enough, or even good enough?
To read more about the myths surrounding calcium supplementation, do take a look at the Fitmag article “Calcium Supplementation – the Dark Side”
Is there anything other than calcium supplementation, which can help in maintaining good bone density, and keep osteoporosis at bay?
The answer to the above question is actually a very simple one – Adapt yourselves. As we all know, our body is quite smart and adapts well to the changes that we try to bring in gradually. Perhaps not in all the cases, but for most of the things it works. With the increase in age, the muscle strength starts to decrease – this decrease is approximately 12% to 15% per decade after the age of 50 years for both men and women. Thus, it is very important to train your body well in order to focus on not only preserving muscle mass, but also increasing muscle mass, and therefore, increasing overall muscle strength. To sum it up, there is no better way than resistance (weight) training to help increase and preserve muscle strength in old age.
It is also to be noted that muscle strength can be increased even at a whopping 90 years of age! This itself gives us a clue that to keep your bones healthy and strong, all we must do is to lift heavy.
Weight Training for the Elderly – Do’s and Don’ts
Weight bearing exercises basically provide a mechanical stimulus or “loading,” which is very important for the improvement as well as maintenance of the bones. Several studies show a positive relation between resistance training and improved bone density. Though there are some researches that do not confirm this relation, most of them have not considered specific parameters, like intensity and duration of the weight training regimen, and the bone density measurement techniques used thereafter.
Thus, a very carefully designed resistance program to target each muscle group a day with lesser weights and more repetitions is a perfect plan for the elderly. Let us take a look at the different ways in which weight training impacts age-related issues:
- Minimizes multiple risk factors – High-intensity resistance training, in contrast to traditional pharmacological and nutritional supplementation, has the added benefit of minimizing other risk factors for osteoporosis by providing improved overall strength and balance, and increased muscle mass.
- Scores over aerobic exercise – Researches also show that resistance training is even better than aerobic training, as resistance training may have a more profound site specific (specific muscles and joints) effect.
- Improves overall physical performance – Resistance training helps in vastly improving physical performance, with better movement control, increase in walking speed, functional independence, added edge to cognitive abilities, and a boost in self-esteem.
- Provides numerous physiological benefits – Studies show that resistance training can help in 1% to 3% increase in bone mineral density. It may be effective in reducing low back pain and easing discomfort associated with diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Proper weight training has also been shown to reverse specific ageing factors in skeletal muscles. Researches have also proved that there are positive effects on insulin action, metabolism, and overall physiological functionality.
Do’s and Don’ts – It is to be noted that right form and technique is the most crucial factor that determines the success of weight training. And when we talk of weight training for the elderly, it becomes of paramount importance.
What ultimately helps is staying active. Yoga, cycling, brisk walking, and swimming are other options that can be used to supplement a well designed weight training plan. A holistic fitness plan that combines training with other activities, and provides the correct nutrition, can help lead a balanced life and bid adieu to osteoporosis and other age-related disabilities.
To read about different aspects relating to nutrition and age, take a look at these topics (you may click to view the article):
Post script – Weight training is not only about building muscles or losing fat. Weight training, especially in the elderly, helps in solving and preventing a lot of health issues, be it diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol or loss in bone density. Remember, lifting weights can go a long way in uplifting the quality of your life.
Author Credits – Rohit Chattopadhyay