Muscles naturally deteriorate with time. The good news is, you can increase your muscle mass at any age. Mark Peterson, researcher and exercise physiologist, reviewed 39 studies on exercise and aging for a 2011 article published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. He discovered that among more than 1,300 adults over 50, muscle mass increased almost 2.5 lbs. after five months of resistance training. Subjects as old as 90 benefited from strength-building exercises.
Get Advice from Professionals
If you are over 70 and want to start an exercise program, talk to your doctor first. Your doctor can help identify risk factors so you develop a safe exercise program. Orthopedic limitations or past injuries might indicate exercises to avoid. Thoroughly review the effects that any medications you take might have on your body during exercise. Many seniors benefit from joining an exercise class at a gym or senior center, or hiring a personal trainer to help design an effective fitness program.
If you’re not used to exercising, start slowly to avoid injury and ease your muscles into their new habit. Peterson suggests that sedentary adults begin by practicing getting in and out of a chair, since even this fundamental activity can be compromised past the age of 65. Standing and sitting 10 times is a good start, he says. If you venture into a gym, Dr. Bruce W. Craig recommends starting with a few simple weight machines. Begin with low weights while you develop good form. Later, you can increase the weight and then learn to use free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells. According to Craig, free weights are more effective than machines, but can be more intimidating initially.
Sample Training Program
Before lifting weights, warm up your muscles with at least five minutes of cardio exercise, such as walking, riding a stationary bike or dancing. Do exercises to work all the major muscle groups. Craig recommends the following machines as a beginning program: bench press, leg extension, lat pulldown, hamstring curls, shoulder press and leg press. He suggests three sets of 10 repetitions, with 90 seconds of rest between each exercise. Each set should be more difficult, with the first weights set at only 50 percent of your maximum ability, the second at 65 percent and the third at 80 percent. For best results, complete your routine three times a week, with 48 hours of rest in between. Allow yourself a few minutes to stretch after exercising.
Case Study: Kelly Nelson
Kelly Nelson was not always a fitness buff. In the book "Fit Over Forty,“ she is quoted as saying, "I recall the 1940s when I never heard of a woman exercising. I am sure it was thought by the general population that exercise would kill a woman, so instead we resorted to rubber girdles that made our butts two sizes smaller and also made our eyes bug out of our heads.” But Nelson began to bodybuild and liked it so much that she took up personal training and eventually made her own fitness DVDs. This 70-plus bodybuilder developed a 10-day cycle of exercise that works for her. Different days focus on different parts of her body, with the last two days being for relaxation. She recommends keeping a training diary to chart weights and repetitions.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: Strength Training for Seniors
- National Public Radio: Seniors Can Still Bulk Up on Muscle by Pressing Iron
- Fit Over Forty; Jon Benson and Tom Venuto
Teresa Bergen writes about fitness, health, yoga, travel and the arts. She is the author of "Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide" and has written hundreds of articles for publications online and off. Bergen also teaches yoga, spinning and group fitness classes, and is an ACE-certified personal trainer.