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Robin Gaudette

With the New Year, wellness and fitness are always a hot topic.

Several months ago, we talked about how maintaining muscle mass lowered some disease risk factors and at times symptoms.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) put out its first position statement on resistance training for older adults. Skipping all the way to the finale, the outcome is that resistance training should be a “lifelong commitment for everyone.” Today, we will discuss what this means for older adults defined as 65 and older.

For many older adults, fear and safety concerns are a barrier to starting and maintaining a resistance program. It isn’t easy to take the first step to walk into a fitness facility as an older adult, maybe experiencing structured exercise for the first time. Barriers such as lack of social support and transportation, financial concerns and the fear of increased pain and fatigue are obstacles that can impede making the choice to improve quality of life.

The NSCA states that resistance training is beneficial and safe for older adults with proper instruction in technique. This requires attending a class or hiring a trainer who has sufficient education and enjoys and understands the older adult population.

Inexperienced participants are at a greater risk of injury according to the NSCA. A trainer or instructor should be knowledgeable and cautious when training the shoulders, knees and hips. They should have a basic understanding of common health concerns and be able to recognize and suggest modifications if certain issues are present.

The NSCA recommends resistance training for older adults two or three times a week. Exercises working major muscle groups; chest, shoulders, back, arms and legs should be the main focus. Weights should be started light and progressing as improvement is made.

There are many other variables that a trainer or instructor will manipulate, add and modify to make sure improvement is made without risking injury. Beginners and those who are more frail are best served beginning on machine based resistance equipment, again with guidance from an experienced trainer.

Higher functioning older adults will find greater gains using free weights. Functional training, movements that mimic activities of daily living are ideal and are found in all exercise programs geared to older adults. A resistance program should have a training balance of muscular strength, power and endurance.

Statistics give us a wake-up call, citing the astounding benefits of resistance exercise. Improvements in muscle quality, bone density, neuromuscular function and metabolic health to list a few should be attractive enough yet only 8.7% of adults over 75 participate in muscle-strengthening activity. In the U.S., 30% of older adults will experience at least one fall annually, the percentage rises to 50% in adults over 80.

Older adults without a history of falls report participating regularly in aerobic and resistance exercises. Those who meet the activity recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise are less likely to develop mobility issues, the risk doubles for those who are inactive.

My recommendation and belief is that a class setting is a great place to start. If you have the ability or have structural issues, hiring a personal trainer to assure correct exercises and form would be ideal. Instructors in senior classes have extra training and are many times older adults themselves.

Many insurance companies have contracts with local fitness facilities to supplement or pay for gym membership. A bonus is the social support you receive from exercising with others, the camaraderie that I have seen develop in my career is extraordinary.

We can have the best instructors, best clubs and best equipment, but the first step starts with you.

Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org.

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