One of the main reasons that the elderly come to our office is because they lose strength and endurance over time. Research has proven that older people lose fast twitch type 2 muscle fibers (or power muscles like Biceps) much faster than slow twitch type 1 (or postural/endurance muscles like Transverse Abdominal) which compromises high performance activities. This often leads to muscle degeneration and an inadequate delivery of oxygen.
Fortunately, numerous studies show that patients, up until their ninth decade, have demonstrated significant gains in strength with therapeutic intervention. However, there are some general guidelines that should be followed. W. J. Evans looked at strengthening for all ages and established specific parameters for the aging adult. According to these findings, exercise training guidelines for the elderly are as follows:
•8-12 repetitions at a time
•Choose a weight heavy enough that it can only be lifted 20 times or less
•Increase weight every 2-3 weeks, 10-15%/week
•Take 2-3 seconds to lift and 4-6 seconds to lower
•Inhale before a lift, exhale during a lift, inhale as the weight is lowered
When strength training, there are some principles to consider in the elderly. First, avoid fatigue. It takes older muscle longer to recover after fatiguing contractions. Second, repetitions are dependent on the muscles one is training. For example, when training type 1 muscle frequent repetitions at a lower intensity is required. When building type 2 muscles you should concentrate on higher intensity exercises with fewer repetitions. Third, an individual will have difficulty attaining strength if there is any swelling in the area. Always make sure that you consult a healthcare provider prior to beginning this type of program. With a careful exercise plan you can rebuild your strength and feel young again.
1 Lewis, C.”Geriatric Orthopaedic Physical Therapy in a Private Practice.” Orthop Phys Ther Clinic of North Am March 1994.
2 Evans WJ. “Reversing Sarcopenia: How weight training can build strength and vitality.” Geriatrics 51(5), May 1996.
-Written by Danna Carver, PT, MTC, DPT