2007-08-29 / Seniors

Strength Training: Tips And Resources For Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can lifting weights help with age-related health problems? I have high blood pressure, some arthritis, and osteoporosis and recently read that strength training could improve my health. But at age 66, I have my doubts. What can you tell me?

Falling Apart

Dear Falling:

Years of research have shown that strength training (also known as resistance training or weight lifting) can have a profound impact on a person's health as they age- and you're never too old to start. Here's what you should know.

Healthy Option

It may be hard to believe, but the benefits of strength training are incredible for seniors. Not only can regular strength training (at least two non-consecutive days a week) help you build muscle strength, increase your bone density and improve your balance, coordination and mobility, it also helps reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, back pain, depression and arthritis.

Is It Safe?

Studies have shown that strengthening exercises (especially if you start conservatively and progress slowly) are safe and effective for almost all seniors, even those with serious health conditions. If you have health concerns or if you are currently inactive, talk to your doctor about what may be appropriate for you. A good selfhelp resource to help you find an appropriate, safe exercise program as well as when to see your doctor is the "Exercise and Screening for You" tool at www.easyforyou.info.

Getting Started

If you've never lifted weights before, you may want to work with a certified personal trainer for a few sessions to help you develop a safe and effective routine you can continue on your own. To find one, ask your doctor or healthcare provider or contact a good health club or fitness facility in your area. You can also search for one online at reputable sites like www.acefitness.org, www.acsm.org and www.ideafit.com.

If personal training isn't an option, there are lots of great senior strength training videos (see www.collagevideo.com) and resources that can provide tips and examples of what exercises to do and how to do them correctly. Here are some good ones to help you get started:

• The National Institute on Aging offers a free exercise guide ("Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging") that provides illustrated and animated examples of exercises you can do at home to strengthen your body. They also sell an exercise DVD or VHS for $7. To order copies, call 800-222-2225 or visit www.niapublications.org and click on "Healthy Aging".

• The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides an online strength-training program for older adults with illustrated exercises and a 12- week workbook for staying on track. Visit www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical and click on "Growing Stronger-Strength Training for Older Adults".

• The Mayo Clinic offers a variety of strength training tools and videos which you can access on their Web site at www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/SM0 0103.

Join a Gym

If you're interested in joining a fitness club, there are a growing number of niche gyms and fitness programs specifically for people over 50. Some to check out include: Club 50 (www.club50fitness.com), Nifty after Fifty (www.niftyafterfifty.com) and SilverSneakers, a fitness program offered in more than 1,500 fitness centers around the county. To find a program in your area, visit www.silversneakers.com or call 888- 423-4632.

Savvy Tips: A great strength training tool designed for seniors is a device called the Resistance Chair ($240), an all-in-one home fitness system that helps seniors maintain and improve their strength with minimal risk of injury. Visit www.continuingfitness.com or call 877- 368-6800. And for maximum health benefits, it's best to combine strength training with an aerobic activity such as walking or swimming, along with regular stretching exercises to keep you limber.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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