Giving strength a boost and giving the ails of aging the boot

American College of Sports Medicine recommends weightlifting for senior health

SENIOR CITIZENS, take note: A recent study shows you can boost brain power and bone density by pumping iron.

That’s right — lifting weights is recommended for the 50 and older set by the American College of Sports Medicine. Participating in regular weight training activities is a “long-overlooked” yet integral part of healthy aging, according to Dr. Robert Drapkin, a board certified physician in Internal Medicine, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care.

While many of the older generation may already engage in regular exercise programs, Drapkin says, they stand to benefit tremendously by adding iron pumping to their regimes. He also points out that lifting weights can help prevent osteoporosis, increase bone density, and improve cognitive functions.

A 2009 study of healthy seniors over 65 found that those who exercise four to five times a week showed 54 percent of the heart benefits found in “master” athletes. The health benefits linked to regular exercise are numerous, and include prevention of aging-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, back pain, joint pain, and cardiovascular disease. “Regular exercise can lessen the symptoms of diseases that are already present and help prevent those diseases from getting worse,” Dr. Drapkin says.

Also known as strength training, weightlifting can be beneficial for elderly adults who are well into their 90s, studies show. After just eight weeks of weightlifting, a group comprised of seniors (ages 87 to 96) improved their muscle strength by nearly 180 percent.

An elderly woman was able to lessen her risk of hip fractures by over 40 percent by working out four hours a week, according to a 2002 study. Lifting weights is also beneficial in preventing falls, which are a leading cause of death in adults over the age of 65. “Regular exercise helps reduce the risk of falling by building balance and flexibility,” says Drapkin. “However, weightlifting has its own unique benefits and can aid in the prevention of falls.” Weightlifting also improves muscle strength and balance and can make it easier to perform daily activities. Those who lift weights also experience improvement in the ability to walk well, since it builds endurance.

The results of devoting time to the activity are encouraging. A University of Vermont study found that after 12 weeks of weightlifting, a group of healthy seniors (ages 65 to 79) could walk a distance nearly 40 percent further than before.

Drapkin warns that seniors should take care to learn how to use machines and techniques correctly. “Safety is paramount,” he cautions. “Weightlifting can prevent injuries; however, we want to avoid causing them by using too much weight or moving incorrectly.” He recommends working with a professional in order to learn proper form, and to consult your physician before beginning any new fitness program.


article by MARY TOOTHMAN

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