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Weight Training For The Aging

There is a growing awareness of the need for weight training (also called resistance training) as an activity for the aging. Weight training is the only type of exercise that can substantially slow, and even reverse, the declines in muscle mass, bone density, and strength that were once considered inevitable consequences of aging.

Because aerobic activity and strength training are each important for health, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that able adults do both on a regular basis to condition all of the major muscle groups -- arms, legs, shoulders, and trunk;

  • 20-60 minutes of aerobic activity is advised 3-5 days a week
  • weight training should be done for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week.
  • The guidelines also suggest that people perform stretching exercises -- which increase the range of motion, or amount of movement, of joints -- a minimum of 2-3 times a week.

Causes of muscle decline
In general, as people grow older, their muscle fibers shrink in number and in size (atrophy) and become less sensitive to messages from the central nervous system. This contributes to a decrease in strength, balance, and coordination. Although there is no question that people experience at least some of these declines at about age 40, the extent to which they occur depends on a number of factors, including genetics, diet, smoking and alcohol use, and -- most importantly -- physical activity level.

Indeed, recent research has indicated that inactivity is responsible for the majority of age associated muscle loss. Fortunately, resistance exercise can reverse much of this decline by increasing the size of shrunken muscle fibers.

It is also well known that weight training can increase bone mass, which lowers the risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures. Strength training adds more weight to the skeleton by building muscle; this stimulates the bones to strengthen and grow to bear the heavier load on the muscles. Once achieved, much of the gain can be maintained through weight-bearing endurance activities such as brisk walking, stair climbing, and aerobics.

Resistance exercise can also help older people live independently by giving them the strength they need to perform everyday tasks. There is even evidence that resistance exercise can help people sleep better and can improve the mood of mildly to moderately depressed individuals.

And because proper strength training doesn't apply stress directly to joints, it is ideal for people with arthritis; indeed, rheumatologists often recommend it. Although it cannot reverse arthritic changes, lifting weights helps alleviate symptoms by strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround joints.


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