To help delay the effects of aging, many active seniors might try pumping iron.
Senior citizens, even if they have never tried an exercise program, can reap significant rewards from strength and endurance training, according to a Brigham Young University exercise physiologist."The elderly person can adapt to and benefit from strength training just as younger people can," said Robert Conlee. He addressed senior athletes at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George Oct. 17 on the benefits of weight training and aerobic workouts.
"Not only should I be able to walk or run a couple of miles when I am older, but I should also be able to lift somewhat heavy objects or unscrew a jar lid more easily and do other routine daily tasks that require modest strength," he said.
Among the well-documented benefits seniors can experience from a regular exercise program are:
- Improved cardiovascular fitness. "Aerobic capacity is probably the primary measure of fitness. If we're aerobically fit, we're capable of working longer at an increased intensity," said Conlee.
- Improved strength. "With strength training, there's an increase in muscle mass in the elderly," he said. "Loss of muscle mass is a significant problem associated with aging. Strength training retards this loss and promotes greater functional capacity."
- Altered body composition. "As they exercise and train, they'll have a lower percentage of body fat and are less likely to be obese," he said.
- Reduced bone loss. "For women, there's a lot of evidence that exercise delays and even reverses the loss of bone density that accompanies aging," said Conlee. "They're less prone to osteoporosis, where the bones lose calcium and become more porous and brittle, more susceptible to breaks."
Seniors interested in increasing their strength and endurance should see their doctors first. "Anyone over 35 who hasn't engaged in an exercise program for a time should consult a physician before starting," he said. Certain conditions such as heart disease, if undiagnosed, could be aggravated by the sudden onset of an exercise regimen.
Once cleared by their doctors, seniors shouldn't hit the weight rooms immediately. "Probably the best overall exercise for seniors is walking," Conlee said. "Walking itself has been found to be an excellent endurance program for the aged."
The walking program needn't be strenuous. "Elderly people can engage in exercise at only 35 percent of their maximum capacity and still enjoy benefits," he said.
As seniors progress and feel a need for improvement, they can then increase their efforts. "If they're already walking, they just need to increase the intensity, since any type of improvement will require some increased effort," he said.