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Strength training!
Building good health
Strength-training tips
Flex your independence

The benefits of weight training
The benefits of weight training

Working out with weights doesn’t just shape a more pleasing body. It also rewards you with:

  • stronger, healthier bones, ligaments and tendons
  • improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose
  • better balance and flexibility and the ability to perform everyday tasks with ease
  • greater cardiovascular health and endurance
  • more refreshing sleep
  • reduced anxiety and depression

When Adela marks her 70th birthday this winter, there’s one thing she intends to do before heading out for her family celebration—get to the YWCA for her seniors’ weight-lifting class. That’s because Adela can’t remember a time in her life when she felt fitter and more energetic. Strength training, she says, is her fountain of youth.

Unfortunately, many older adults haven’t gotten the word that healthy seniors can safely perform strength training, or resistance exercise. In fact, one recent study found that about 89 percent of adults over 65 don’t strength train at all.

Building good health

Lifting weights does more than tone and strengthen your body. Resistance exercise helps you lose pounds, improve cholesterol levels and lower blood sugar and blood pressure. Consistently working out also increases energy and improves balance, reducing the risk of falling. That’s good news for people with thinning bones, or osteoporosis, who are at greater risk for debilitating fractures but who may be avoiding exercise for safety reasons. Under supervision, they can use resistance exercise to build and strengthen their bones and muscles.

Strength-training tips

Consider your fitness level when starting any exercise program. You’ll probably feel some muscle soreness at the outset—that’s normal—just be sure to report severe pain or swelling, dizziness, nausea or shortness of breath to your doctor. Some people, especially those with a history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or orthopedic complaints, may have to take extra precautions. To make strength training safer and more effective, follow this advice:

Get your doctor’s permission—as well as instructions on how to exercise safely:

  • Ask your doctor whether you have any medical conditions that may increase your risk for injury.
  • Find out the side effects of any prescription or over-the-counter medications you use and how soon after taking them you can safely exercise.

Commit to regular exercise:

  • Try to weight train at least twice a week and no more than four times a week. If possible, have a reputable certified personal trainer help you structure a program that suits your schedule and needs. Or take a class and follow the instructor’s guidelines for working out at home.
  • Let muscles recover 48 hours between weight sessions.
  • Make contingency plans for times when your schedule is interrupted. For example, store light dumbbells at home so you won’t miss a workout if bad weather keeps you from your strength-training class.

Start slowly and progress gradually:

  • Warm up your muscles before strength training with five to 10 minutes of walking, cycling or jumping jacks.
  • Use a weight that allows you to do 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise to the point of muscle fatigue. Choose one or two exercises for each muscle group (the front and back of the legs, the front and back of the upper arms, chest, back, shoulders and abdomen) and do one set of each exercise to start.
  • Learn proper exercise form. Perform each movement slowly while maintaining control over the weight—don’t jerk, flail or use momentum or gravity to help you move the weight. In three to five weeks, add a set or two of each exercise to build on your fitness gains.
  • Rest one to two minutes between sets. Choose a lighter weight if you struggle to maintain your posture during the exercise. If you can easily perform 12 repetitions, try using a slightly heavier weight next time.
  • Cool down with five to 10 minutes of easy walking and stretching.

Flex your independence

Adela loves her strength-training class—for the physical benefits and the social interaction. Her energy is greater than it was a decade ago, her posture has improved and her muscles are toned. Keeping chronic disease at bay and avoiding disability are added perks.

If you begin lifting weights, you’ll soon find, as Adela did, that life seems a bit easier. You’ll feel more comfortable and capable, not just when you’re working out, but while you’re cleaning, running errands or simply having fun with friends.