Well Ahead Blog

Back to Well Ahead Blog

Strength training for seniors

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital February 11, 2015 General Wellness

Low-impact aerobic exercise routines like walking, biking, and swimming are an important part of maintaining a healthy body, mind, and heart as you age. And although aerobic exercise has a number of benefits, it is only one component of a fitness routine for seniors.

“Strength training isn’t just for young people,” says Jeanette Griffiths, physical therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital. “As long as you have permission from your physician, a strength training routine can decrease complications associated with health issues like diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis that tend to occur more frequently in an older population."

Although every person’s workout will differ, there are some suggestions that can help ensure you are getting a safe and beneficial workout. Below, Griffiths offers some tips for older adults interested in beginning a strength training routine.

Pace yourself

Unlike aerobic exercise, which can be done on a daily basis, strength training should only be performed two or three times per week. Give yourself at least 48 hours of rest before strengthening the same muscle group again. Too much strength training in too little time can fatigue your muscles and lead to injury.

During your workout, remember to move slowly, too. Strength training exercises should not focus on speed. You should be able to ‘stop on a dime’ when doing the exercise.

Distinguish pain from soreness

After a strength workout, it’s normal to have some muscle soreness the next day, but pain is a red flag.

“You shouldn’t be in pain while you’re performing the exercises,” says Griffiths. “If you are, stop immediately and halt your workouts until you talk to your doctor.”

If you’re having difficulty performing exercises through a full, pain-free range of motion, make an appointment with your physician.

Practice safe strength training technique

No matter what strength training routine has been recommended for you, there are some general rules of thumb to ensure you’re doing them safely:

  • Exercise with a buddy or in front of a mirror to closely monitor your form.
  • Remember to breathe. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Time your breathing so that you are exhaling during the more difficult part of your exercise.
  • Maintain good form and posture to focus on the muscles being strengthened and prevent injuries.

Work with what you have

You don’t need a gym membership to get started with low-impact strength and resistance training. Start at home with simple routines like:

  • Climbing the stairs.
  • Transition from sitting to standing with your arms crossed over your chest.
  • Mini-squats – while holding on to something for balance, flex your knees and hips as though you are preparing to sit down. When you reach 45 degrees, stand back up straight.
  • Standing heel raises – hold on to a table, desk, or counter for balance and raise up on to your toes. Lower yourself back down in a controlled manner.

As is the case with any workout routine, it’s important to check with your physician before you begin any of these exercises. They can help you determine a safe and practical workout for you based on your health history.

To make an appointment with a Main Line Health physician or to set up a complete exercise routine with a Main Line Health physical therapist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.