Thursday, July 14, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Getting older doesn't need to mean getting significantly weaker. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter describes the benefits of weight training to help prevent loss of muscle strength in older adults.
Muscle strength is needed for everyday movements like mowing the lawn or playing with grandkids. With no strength training and little physical activity, age-related muscle loss and weakness can quickly become a downward spiral. A decline in muscle mass, strength and endurance makes everyday tasks harder as well as increasing fatigue and the likelihood of developing a disability.
While age takes a toll on the amount and quality of muscle in the body, studies have found that only 30 percent of the difference in strength between young adults and older adults is due to aging. That means 70 percent of strength loss is related to other factors, most notably a decline of physical activity.
This 70 percent loss doesn't have to occur, and if it has occurred, the loss can be regained. Older adults often experience remarkable improvement in strength within weeks or months of starting a strength training program. Stronger muscles can promote a healthier lifestyle, and also can influence health in other ways.
Improved bone health: Strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
Reduced risk of injury: Weight training can contribute to better balance, coordination and agility — reducing the risk of injury. Strengthening makes joints more stable and helps muscles take a greater role in absorbing stresses exerted on joints.
Improved weight control: Muscles burn calories. Muscle gains through strength training help burn more calories, making it easier to reduce body fat and control weight. At first, strength training may not result in much weight loss because muscle weight gains may offset losses in fat weight. Reduction in measurements such as waist size and a leaner overall body are likely to occur.
Reduced back pain: Strengthening lower back muscles is a proven way to ease back pain.
Improved cognition: A recent study found that older women who participated in strength training once or twice a week improved cognitive function.
A doctor, physical therapist or certified trainer can offer suggestions for a weight training program. Two or three sessions a week, lasting 20 to 30 minutes, are adequate for most people.
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