The answer is NO! When it comes to exercise and strengthening, I have heard this question countless times from my elderly patients. They think, that because, they are in their later stages of life, strength training won’t be beneficial. That is far from the truth! Yes, with aging comes a loss of muscle (called Sarcopenia) and consequently a decrease in strength. There are a number of reasons why we lose muscle as we age, but the big question is, can we gain strength in our later years? The answer is YES!
First, I want to explain the concept of hypertrophy. Hypertrohpy means there is an actual increase in dimension of each individual muscle fiber, resulting in an overall increase in muscle size. Muscle hypertohpy leads to improved strength(1).
Now, I have seen and experienced elderly patient’s gain strength. For example, I start Bill on an exercise program and at first he can lift 3 pounds doing a biceps curl. After weeks or months of strength training, he can now lift 5 pounds. Personal experience aside, I wanted to see what the research had to say (articles listed below).
There is overwhelming evidence that supports strength gains in the elderly. The studies looked at different variables but they all had strengthening programs that were anywhere between 12 weeks and 52 weeks. This is important to note because you don’t see strength gains overnight, or over a few weeks for that matter. In the aging population, it takes time for the muscles to hypertrophy.
There you have it. “I’m too old” is not an excuse. It does take work and time, but no matter your age, you can improve your strength. If you’re asking, why is this important? It’s important because there is a huge correlation between weakness and falls, frailty, and disability (7). The stronger you are, the more likely you will have your physical independence. It’s not all about looks, it’s about quality of life.
One more important thing to note is that strength training breaks down muscle before it rebuilds stronger. There is a recovery time involved to allow the muscle to remodel. This reason, among many, is why you should not start an exercise program without professional guidance. A physical therapist can evaluate you and develop the best program for you. We are educated in exercise prescription for people with varying medical diagnoses. If you have osteoporosis, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy or scoliosis to name a few, come talk with us to figure out your best plan.
The old saying is true, if you don’t use it you lose it. Don’t let that happen to you! Check out our fitness classes at the Academy for Sports and Wellness, we have class offerings for all age! http://www.pt-cpr.com/academy/wellness/class-description
Research Articles on Strength Training in the Elderly: