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Exercises For Maintaining Muscle Strength As You Age

Regular physical activity is important no matter what age you are, but when you’re 65 years and over, it’s especially important. As you age, you become susceptible to sarcopenia, a degenerative syndrome that results in the loss of skeletal muscle mass, eventually resulting in physical disability, loss of independence and poor quality of life. Staying physically active through regular walking, swimming or aerobics can help prevent this, as well as many of the other health problems that come with age. Essentially, by maintaining muscle strength, you can stay in charge of day-to-day activities for longer.

How much physical activity should you be getting?

It is recommended that, at the very least, a person over 65 should partake in 150 minutes (2.5hrs) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, as well as 20 - 30 minutes of muscle-strengthening activities twice a week. If you increase the intensity (by switching a brisk walk to a run for example), you can lower the time spent on aerobic activity.

For those looking for greater results and stronger health benefits, you can up the ante by taking part in 300 minutes (5hrs) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on two days.

This may sound like a lot, but you can break your exercises into small chunks, taking a moment every few hours to lift some dumbbells or take a walk around the block.

What is aerobic activity?

Aerobic activity refers to cardio exercises that get your heart beating faster. These activities can include dancing, walking, jogging, skipping, swimming, mowing the lawn - basically anything that quickens your breathing and works up a sweat. A good way to know if you’ve done enough activity is to try and sing your favourite song. If you can’t get the words out without stopping to catch your breath, you’re on the right track.

What is muscle-strengthening activity?

When you take part in regular strength-training exercise, you gain muscle strength, which in turn promotes the healthy remodelling of bones as you age. By working out frequently, muscle-strength can slow down the ageing process and lower risks of developing fractures, osteoporosis and other bone mineral density defects.

Muscle strength can also help keep many diseases at bay, especially type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It improves breathing, prevents constipation and can lower the chance of developing hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

On top of all this, strength training improves posture, energy levels, physical strength, coordination, mobility and overall health.

What exercises should you be doing?

To gain the benefits of strength-training, you need to complete a set of repetitions until it is hard to do without assistance (a repetition is one complete movement of an activity). Ideally, you want to aim for 8-12 repetitions per activity set and three sets per exercise.

The activities you choose should work all the major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.

Arm Raises (shoulders)

  • Sit in a chair with your back straight, feet flat on the floor
  • Hold hand weights straight down at your sides with palms facing inwards
  • Raise both arms to shoulder height and hold for one second
  • Slowly lower arms back down

Chair Stands (stomach and thighs)

  • Place a pillow against the back of a chair to keep you sitting close to the front
  • With knees bent, lean back on pillow, keeping back and shoulders straight
  • Raise upper body forward, concentrating on the abdomen
  • Without using your hands, slowly stand up, then lower back down

Bicep Curls (upper-arm)

  • Sit in an armless chair
  • With feet flat on floor and arms straight, hold weights at side, palms facing in
  • Slowly lift one elbow towards the chest
  • Rotate palm to face your shoulder and hold for one second
  • Lower and repeat with other arm

Tri Extensions (triceps)

  • Sit at the front of a chair, knees bent, feet flat and in line with shoulders
  • With palm facing in, raise a weight straight above your head
  • Support the arm below the elbow with your other hand
  • Slowly bend the weight down towards your shoulder, straighten and hold for one second and repeat

Knee Flexion (back of thigh)

  • Stand with your hand holding the back of a chair
  • Slowly bend one knee, bringing the other foot to a point position
  • Hold for six seconds
  • Alternate legs

Tips for strength training

  • Gradually increase the weight to challenge your muscles
  • Pick up and lower weights slowly
  • If your weight is too heavy to lift 8 times, it’s too heavy
  • If you can lift your weight more than 15 times, it’s too light
  • Wait one minute between each set and stretch the muscle while you wait
  • Don’t hold your breath. Breathe out as you lift and in when you relax
  • Avoid jerking or thrusting movements
  • Avoid locking joints
  • Eat protein-rich foods after your workout
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