It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that fitness for older adults is essential for aging well. In fact, in a lot of cases, exercise for senior citizens can mean the difference between being immobile and enjoying a healthy, active, and independent lifestyle.
While light walking and other low-intensity cardio exercises are certainly beneficial, the problem is that a lot of aging adults opt to stay away from strength training, because they think their aging muscles can’t handle it. But the truth is that when it comes to fitness for older adults, strength training can actually provide incredible results, and not just for your body. Resistance training can also improve cognitive function when it’s included in fitness for older adults, according to a study recently published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
The Study: Strength Training Makes You Smarter?
For the study, 62 men aged 65 to 75 participated in a strength-training routine for a 24-week period. The workouts, which they did three times a week, included simple exercises like crunches, leg curls, leg presses, and chest presses. Half the group worked at moderate intensity, while the other half did a higher intensity workout. Before starting the study, all of the participants did exercises to test their concentration skills, as well as their short- and long-term memory. They were also asked about their moods and their overall quality of life. They repeated the tests and answered the same questions after completing the workout program.
At the end of the study, all of the participants, including both the high- and medium-intensity exercisers, showed a significant improvement in the cognitive tests and even reported an improved quality of life. On the other hand, the control group, who only did stretches without any strength training, didn’t improve their scores at all. These findings show that regularly doing even a light round of weight training can impact your cognitive function.
This is just one of many studies that have shown a connection between weight/resistance training and improved cognitive function. Research has shown that these types of exercises are valuable in fitness for older adults, because they can help to manage anxiety, improve memory, improve symptoms of chronic fatigue, improve overall mental health, and even boost self-esteem.
Other Benefits of Strength Training as Exercise for Senior Citizens
Aside from improving cognitive function, weight training is also an important part of fitness for older adults because of the impact it can have on the body. Here are a few examples:
• Arthritis: Including strength training in fitness for older adults can decrease pain associated with osteoarthritis, according to a study by Tufts University.
• Bone Health: You naturally lose bone mass as you get older, but based on the findings from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, strength training as exercise for senior citizens can actually help to increase bone density, especially for women between the age of 50 and 70.
• Weight Control: Cardio isn’t the only exercise for weight loss. Strength training builds muscle mass and increases metabolic rate even after working out. And muscles burn through calories much more than stored body fat does, so the more muscle mass you have, the less fat you have. Several studies have shown that strength training effectively helps to burn fat.
• Heart Health: We know aerobic exercise is good for the heart, but so is strength training. That’s why the American Heart Association recommends it to reduce the risk of heart disease, and why strength training is almost always included in rehab programs for cardiac patients.
Tips for Including Strength Training in Fitness for Older Adults
• Always consult with a professional before implementing strength training into fitness for older adults. This is to ensure proper form and to reduce the risk of injury.
• Address any pre-existing injuries with a trainer, who can guide you on how to modify certain exercises so that they don’t add too much pressure to problem areas. The last thing you want to do is exacerbate an injury.
• Make sure that you’re eating a well-rounded diet with sufficient protein.
• Regardless of what type of exercise you’re doing with fitness for older adults, it’s important to always focus on your form. If you’re unsure about how to do something or a certain movement doesn’t feel right, stop doing it until you’re with someone who can observe and properly adjust your form.
Fetters, K.A., “What’s Best for Weight Loss: Cardio or Strength Training?” Women’s Health web site, November 22, 2013; http://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/cardio-vs-weight-training.
Ramirez, A., et al., “Resistance Training Improves Mental Health,” The University of New Mexico web site; https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/RTandMentalHealth.html, last accessed March 25, 2015.
“Why strength training?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/, last accessed March 25, 2015.
Wolk, V., “This Is How A Dumbbell Can Make You Smarter,” Prevention web site, January 7, 2015; http://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/workouts-and-brain-health.