For decades, strength training was seen as something that was only done by young athletes and bodybuilders who make a living sculpting their bodies into utter muscular perfection. However, thanks to a better understanding of the human body, we now know that this form of exercise is not only important but also incredibly beneficial for people of all ages. Older adults, specifically, can benefit immensely from such exercises. Not only will they feel much younger, but also the extra boost in strength and energy can help improve their lifestyles and give them more freedom and excitement in their day-to-day lives. In this article we are going to outline some senior strength exercises that older people can do from the comfort of their own homes. These workouts can be done individually or in a group setting for a more fun and interactive session. Before getting into the following senior strength training exercises, please be sure to first speak to your doctor so they can clear you for working. You would not want to injure yourself or further aggravate any underlying medical issues that you may currently be dealing with.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Senior Citizen Strength Exercises?
Here are some reasons why older adults should be encouraged to take up resistance training exercises:
- Reduced Weakness And Fragility – For many older adults, most of their days are spent seated in one place because it is hard for them to move around. They either get tired quickly or they cannot muster the strength to walk/move around alot. When you do strength training, you increase your muscle mass and strength which as research shows, reduces disability, fragility and falls (13).
- Increased Freedom And Less Dependency On Others – According to a study published in 2010 in the Journal of Family Nursing, many senior citizens experience feelings of guilt because of how much they have to rely on their family members for different tasks and care (16). When seniors do strength training exercises, they get stronger which enables them to rely a little less on family members or paid caregivers. This not only increases their confidence but they are also able to get out and move about more, expanding their world from just the couch or porch in front of their house.
- Weight Management – It might not seem like it, but weight management is extremely important in senior citizens. Research shows that failure to mind one’s weight as an older adult leads to health issues like obesity, disability, and the increase in absolute mortality risk up to age 75. Obesity in itself is also associated with a multitude of illnesses like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and sleep apnea, as well as osteoarthritis, cancer, and cognitive dysfunction (14). Building more muscle through strength training has been shown to be one of the best ways to manage weight in older adults (4).
- Reduced Risk Of Osteoporosis – Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones to a point where they can break easily. Older people with weak bones also tend to fall a lot which can lead to a life of constant fractures. Exercising regularly, especially by doing senior leg strength exercises can reduce bone loss which not only reduces the frequency of falls but also the likelihood of fractures if you happen to fall (9).
- Reduced Risk Of Chronic Illness – According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 60 percent have at least two chronic conditions. Illnesses like heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes are incredibly common in older adults. Research has shown that resistance training can reduce the risk of such illnesses, thus improving the quality of life of many senior citizens (13, 11).
- Improved Mental Health – According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, over 20 percent of older adults above the age of 60 suffered from mental or neurological disorders of some sort with the most common ones being dementia, depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse problems (7). Studies have shown that increased physical fitness and strength training can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in older adults. It was also shown to improve cognitive functioning and self esteem (10, 6).
- Improved Sleep – According to the Sleep Foundation, many seniors find it hard to fall asleep at night. This can be attributed to changes in the body’s internal clock which interferes with the circadian rhythm – a system that lets you know when to sleep and wake up among other things – as well as changes in the production of hormones such as melatonin and cortisol, which too, affect sleep (1). Research has shown that not only can resistance training make older adults stronger, but it also improves sleep quality. The results from these studies have been so remarkable, so much so that researchers believe that strength training can be used as an alternative therapy for fixing sleep problems in middle aged persons and seniors (3, 12).
Things To Consider Before Starting A Senior Strength Training Exercise Program
As seen above, senior strength exercises can do amazing things not only to your body, but also mental and general health. However, before diving into the first strength training program you come across, here are some factors you must consider for your safety, wellbeing, and the best results:
- Medical Advice – As previously stated, you must always speak to your doctor before attempting any workout program. Your healthcare provider will help make any modifications to your program to ensure that you remain safe as you workout.
- Space – The best part about these senior strength exercises is that you do not need to go to the gym to do them. While there’s nothing wrong with working out in a gym, some people often feel uncomfortable and intimidated surrounded by more physically fit and younger strangers.
For these at home exercises, make sure that you have ample space – you should be able to stand and spread your arm wide without touching the walls or any furniture. Also make sure that the floor is comfortable, dry and not slippery.
- Take It Slow – Do not push yourself too much trying to emulate other more experienced or physically fit people. Just work within your ability. The more you workout, the stronger you’ll get and eventually the things that your body does will surprise you.
- Soft Surface – Invest in a thick yoga or gym mat. This keeps your body and especially joints safe when doing workouts that require you to get on the floor. A mat is also a much safer surface to fall on unlike a cold hard floor.
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How Can Seniors Improve Strength?
The easiest way for older adults to build strength is through strength training aka resistance training. Strength training can be done with equipment such as free weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, wrist and ankle weights, etc.), and resistance or simply by using your bodyweight.
The inclusion of weights makes the exercises more challenging and helps build your muscles faster. However, if you don’t have any weights, don’t worry, using your body weight works just as well or you can improvise using things around your house.
Here are some senior strength exercises that older adults should try to incorporate in their daily routine:
- Dead Bug – This is a great core workout that easily replaces the sit-ups and crunches that many people are used to. Strengthening the core is important for seniors as this part of the body plays a critical role in retaining a good posture, preventing injuries, and ensuring that your muscles support everyday activities for as long as possible.
- Glute Bridges – Did you know that gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body? Next to the heart, it is the next hardest working muscle. It helps you during walking, keeps your core erect, and is responsible for many more tasks. Like the name suggests, this exercise targets and strengthens the muscles in your butt. It also opens up the hips making movement easier.
- Chair Squats – Chair squats are an easier version of the usual body weight squats. Seniors are advised to do chair squats as it’s easier on the joints, especially the knees. This exercise will help strengthen your core, calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
- Jogging In Place – Not only is it a great warm up exercise to help get your heart rate up and muscles warmed up, but it is essentially a form of running which burns calories and improves heart and cardiovascular health.
- Punching – Like jogging, punching is a great exercise that doubles up as both a warmup and an actual workout. Not only will it warm up your muscles, making them loose and more flexible, but it also offers a fantastic workout for your upper body, especially the traps, shoulder, biceps, triceps, forearm, chest, quads, glutes, and abdomen, among many more muscles.
Other simple senior citizen strength exercises include lunges, planks, overhead shoulder presses, calf raises, bird dog, etc. The list is endless. Remember to warm up before and cool down after your workout.
Which Are The Best Strength Building Exercises For Senior Golfers?
It is not a secret – older people, especially men, love golfing. Studies looking into why this is a favorite pastime for many seniors found that both male and female golfers found this activity to be physically demanding on a relatively low level, as well as encouraging social and community engagement. These seniors believed that it provided physical, mental, and cognitive health benefits. Others liked it because it was simply fun and gave them a chance to compete against others in a pleasant environment (2, 15).
According to an older study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the muscles mostly used during various golf swings include the biceps, trapezius, pectorals, lower and upper gluteus maximus as well as the muscles in the back and core (8).
Some of the best strength building exercises for senior golfers include:
- Push-Ups (Switch out normal pushups for wall or knee push ups) – Not only are push ups essentially a full body workout, but they are especially good for strengthening the muscles in your pectorals, shoulders and triceps. Additionally, they will work your core and lower back too.
- Box/Chair Squats – The glutes are an important part of any perfect golf swing. Squats are among the best workouts to strengthen this part of the body. These exercises also work your quads and core muscles too.
- Split Squats – Like box squats, this exercise will work your glutes, core and quads. It also targets the hip flexors and hamstrings. Remember that leg strength and flexibility are essential to the perfect swing.
- Cobra Stretch – It might not be as active as the above mentioned exercises but it is still important for many golfers, both young and old. The cobra stretch targets muscles located in almost the entire body from the tops of your feet to the hip flexors, core, pectorals, lower back, neck, biceps and much more.
What Is The Best Exercise Activity For A 65-Year-Old?
According to the CDC, brisk walking is the best exercise for older adults. Those who want something more challenging can try their hand at hiking, jogging or even running (5).
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What Is The Best Exercise For 70 Year Olds?
The answer remains the same as above. For seniors, the best exercise is usually walking. Not only does it not require any equipment, but it is also super accessible and very easy to modify to challenge yourself. You can walk faster, slower, walk on an incline on a hill, walk on different terrain, etc. the options are endless.
However, if you do not feel like walking, some other exercise options for seniors include cycling, dancing, gardening, pilates, yoga, swimming, and water aerobics. All these exercises will not only improve your cardiovascular health, but they will also build your muscle mass and strength making you much more flexible and stronger.
The Bottom Line
Senior strength exercises are a great way to help improve the quality of life for many older adults. Not only does it give them a chance to feel strong, get out of the house and meet new people, but it also improves their health and helps them sleep better. If you or a senior close to you is willing to try any of these exercises, please urge them to first speak to a doctor.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Aging and Sleep (2022, sleepfoundation.org)
- An exploratory investigation into the reasons why older people play golf (2015, tandfonline.com)
- Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review (2012, sciencedirect.com)
- How can strength training build healthier bodies as we age? (2022, nia.nih.gov)
- How much physical activity do older adults need? (2022, cdc.gov)
- Mental Health Benefits of Strength Training in Adults (2010, researchgate.net)
- Mental health of older adults (2017, who.int)
- Muscle activity during the golf swing (2005, bjsm.bmj.com)
- Osteoporosis and exercise (n.d., betterhealth.vic.gov.au)
- Physical fitness and psychological benefits of strength training in community dwelling older adults (1997, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Resistance Training for Older Adults: Position Statement From the National Strength and Conditioning Association (2019, journals.lww.com)
- Resistance Training Improves Sleep Quality in Older Adults a Pilot Study (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The benefits of strength training for older adults (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Weight Management in Older Adults (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Why Do Older Adults Play Golf? An Evaluation of Factors Related to Golf Participation by Older Adults (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- You Don’t Want to Burden Them (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)