Ester column: Exercise can ease aging
Q: I am a senior and have been working out. I used to do three sets of 10 reps or so. I read that for us it is better to perform one set of 12 reps until exhaustion. I started doing it and I am seeing results. Can you write about this?
A: I am delighted to write about this. First of all, I hope everyone has or had a moment to reflect on this day celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr.. And if you are off today, enjoy it.
One of the things that make my heart sing is older active adults still going strong in the weight room and in group exercise classes.
It gives me great hope that with hard work and dedication it is achievable to stay healthy, fit and looking great. And, yes, you know who you are. You are my idols, whether it is running on the treadmill and logging 500 miles a year and include strength training in that workout.
To others who participate in classes, walking, water classes and more, so much more.
Letís look at the special considerations and exercise for ěseniorsî which is supported by the American College of Sports medicine (ACSM).
Aging brings all kind of wonderful things, but also some not so wonderful things.
There will be physiological changes. It can be difficult sometimes to differentiate effects of aging from those from disease and reconditioning, so make sure you have a good relationship with your doctor to be able to know the difference. Common physiological changes are:
Loss of number and size of cells
Body fat increases, muscle mass decreases.
Decreased number of fast-twitch fibers and also some slow-twitch. Fast-twitch fibers are used in explosive movements such as sprints, jumps. Slow-twitch fibers are dominant in longer distance exercise such as running, walking, swimming.
Diminished glycogen stores. Your body does not store the ěsugarsî in the muscles. I guess it goes straight to fat.
Lungs less able to supply oxygen during exercise
Decreased number of neurons resulting in less precise movements. (See, itís the fault of the aging process that made you miss that putt.)
Loss of elasticity of connective tissue. That is why stretching and yoga and such are so important.
Diminished rate of stress adaptation.
Our number one focus for exercise programming for seniors is to focus on functional capacity necessary for daily tasks, such as tying your own shoes, walking up stairs, and sitting down and being able to get back up.
Now, we want you to do this with activities that will help you accomplish that and encourage you to continue to do them. And weight-bearing exercises should be included to enhance bone density and reduce muscle loss.
It is not too late
I have seen miracles happen in my past 29 years in the fitness field with people who could barely walk, let alone sit down and get back out of a chair without assistance. People suffering pain, such as back pain, were able to get stronger, more flexible, and most importantly, get relief from the pain by starting and continuing an exercise program.
Sometimes pain relief just lasts the length of the exercise session and maybe for a couple of hours after that, but people are thankful. I have seen people being wheeled in a gym, carried into the pool and after a couple of months they are able to walk in, get down the ladder into the pool and climb back out. Fortunately, we have lifts and an easy entry pool to make it more accessible and easy for anyone to come and exercise.
I have seen people who were unable to pick up a bag of groceries lift 100 pounds and not even break a sweat.
Time for action
Now to get to the sets and reps for older active adults.
First, it is important to first assess your fitness level. Someone just starting a strength program should not be working out until their muscles fail.
Older adults (over 65) should not perform more than 12 sets per workout. (If you do 12 exercises you perform one set per exercise.) Research has shown that a single set of 12 reps with the proper weight can build muscle just as efficiently as the three sets of the same exercise.
Warm up and stretches before and after the workouts are recommended.
Proper technique is very important (for any age) and should be second nature before going up in weight.
Start slowly if you are a beginner you need to get your muscles, tendons and ligaments used to the weight-training regime. Too much and/or heavy too soon is the perfect blend for disaster.
A good rule of thumb is to start easier. When you can easily do 12 reps with a weight, gradually increase the weight in your next workout and do it again. You will be excited to see the progress once you start.
Take time to rest. Allow at least 48 hours or even 72 hours of rest between strength exercises for the same muscle groups. You could do upper body exercises one day and lower body the next day.
For most older active adults, shorter strength-training workouts performed more often per week are much better than the typical workout of 80 to 90 minutes, three days per week.
And most importantly make sure your doctor is aware and gives you permission to start an exercise program and especially a weight training program.
People with high blood pressure and maybe some other ailments with which it is not recommended to lift heavy weights might need a different kind of strength workout.
So, letís pump some iron.