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Is Grandma Pumping Iron?

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Is Grandma Pumping Iron?

More seniors turn to weight training.
Arnold  Bull
Arnold Bull More by this author
Dec 29, 2009 at 09:00 AM

While it’s generally accepted that aerobic exercise is especially beneficial for seniors, what about anaerobic exercise? By this I mean weight training, either on a machine or with “free weights” such as dumbbells or barbells. The very idea of Grandpa or Grandma “bulking up” through weight training seems ludicrous to many. What possible benefit could oldsters derive from pumping iron? Well, not too long ago, the prestigious American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) advised weight training two or three times a week for both senior men and women. They cited research by doctors and physiologists that showed that muscle deterioration in the elderly could actually be reversed!

I must admit that I once found it ridiculous to believe, even for a moment, that one could restore shriveled muscles at my age. Then I read about the fantastic findings at Tufts University, whose USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging conducted tests on the aged and infirm in their 80s and 90s. Some of these subjects were actually able to increase muscle mass, but even more astounding, some enhanced their strength by as much as 150 percent or more. In one group of ten frail men and women as old as 90, all having one or more chronic illness or disability, they found muscle power increased by a whopping 175 percent—and without a single injury to boot! Aside from getting stronger, these seniors also improved their balance. Balance, of course, is key in preventing falls, which account for an inordinately high number of accidental fatalities in the elderly. The project was expanded and lengthened with additional patients reaping the same beneficial results.

Weight or resistance training exchanged body fat for lean muscle tissue, resulting in an improved appearance. More important, it provides the elderly with a greater ability to rise from the sitting position (millions of older Americans require assistance just to get up from the toilet or the bathtub). Weight training makes it easier to lift laundry baskets and to carry heavy grocery bags into the house from the car.

Another potential benefit is improved sleep patterns, resulting in better moods. Also, because muscles surrounding various joints are empowered by the lifting of weights, symptoms of arthritis are diminished, and “pumping iron” even plays a vital role in combating osteoporosis, so prevalent in seniors (men as well as women).

Lifting weights enhances bone density, but care must be taken that this form of exercise is done under the guidance of a qualified instructor.

Before embarking on your own journey into weight and resistance training, it’s strongly recommended that you visit a reputable health club to learn the facts. Improper lifting techniques can do more harm than good, so I urge you to seek out professional help. Visit your library or bookstore for information on the subject as well . . . and don’t forget to go online, too.

About Author
Arnold  Bull
Arnold Bull is in his mid-80s and recognized nationally and internationally as America’s Oldest, Active Certified Aerobics Instructor. Not always physically fit, he earned certification just before age 70 and has been teaching fitness classes five da Continue reading