Strength training among older adults

Strength training among older adults

Carrie Morantz

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report determining the percentage and characteristics of older adults who perform strength training consistent with current recommendations. “Strength Training Among Adults Aged [greater than or equal to] 65 Years–United States, 2001” appears in the January 23, 2004, issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and is available online at

Strength training (also referred to as resistance training) enables adults to improve their overall health and fitness by increasing muscular strength, endurance, and bone density and by improving their insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. For adults older than 65 years (“older adults”), strength-training exercises are recommended (see accompanying box) to decrease the risk for falls and fractures and to promote independent living. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults include strength training as part of a comprehensive physical activity program. A national health objective for 2010 is to increase to 30 percent the proportion of adults who perform, more than two days each week, physical activities that enhance and maintain muscular strength and endurance.

Approximately 12 percent of older adults, and 10 percent of adults older than 75 years report that they met the strength-training objective. According to the CDC, these findings underscore the need for programs that encourage older adults to incorporate strength training into their lives along with regular physical activity.

Approximately 11 percent of older adults report that they engage in strength training more than two days per week. Women were less likely than men to meet the objective. The likelihood of meeting the objective declines with advancing age and increases with level of education. Persons who are obese are less likely than those of healthy weight to meet the objective. Adults of fair or poor health are less likely to meet the objective than those in excellent health.

Among older adults categorized as physically active, 24.7 percent engage in strength training. Adults categorized as inactive and those categorized as insufficiently active are less likely to engage in strength training than persons in the physically active group. An estimated 5.6 percent of adults responding to a survey met the national objectives for both physical activity and strength training.

These results suggest the need for targeted programs to encourage certain older-adult populations (e.g., women and persons who are less educated, obese, or physically inactive) to increase strength training. These populations are similar to those previously identified among persons older than 18 years who were less likely to engage in weight lifting more than two days per week.

Between 1998 and 2001, the proportion of older adults who met the national objective for strength training increased from 10 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2001 among those 65 to 74 years of age, and from 7 percent to 10 percent among those 75 years and older. However, these prevalences remained less than one half the 2010 national target of 30 percent of the adult population. To increase strength training among older adults, the CDC calls for programs that address multiple factors, including increasing awareness of fitness benefits, affordability, physical limitations, accessibility (e.g., transportation), and fear of injury. Programs can be offered at places of worship, community centers, senior centers, schools, and fitness centers. Older adults also can perform strength training in their homes by using chair exercises as described in exercise guides, videos, and free information from the Internet, such as the information available from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Strength Training Recommendations for Older Adults

* Exercises should be performed at least two days per week.

* Certain exercises can be performed standing or seated.

* Use hand and ankle weights, or resistance bands, or no weights at all.

* If weights are used, start with 1 to 2 pounds and gradually increase the weight over time.

* Perform exercises that involve the major muscle groups (e.g., arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, back, hips, and legs) and exercises that enhance grip strength.

* Perform eight to 15 repetitions of each exercise, then perform a second set.

* Do not hold your breath during strength exercises.

* Rest between sets.

* Avoid locking joints in arms and legs.

* Stretch after completing all exercises.

* If at any time you feel pain, stop exercising.

Information from the National Institute on Aging.

COPYRIGHT 2004 American Academy of Family Physicians

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group