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Five better ways for older adults to get stronger

GEHA | February 15, 2022

Bonus: You'll also improve mobility and reduce your risk of injury.

When you make the effort to exercise, you are building strong, healthy muscles, improving heart health, boosting bone density and improving mobility to reduce joint discomfort and pain.

If you listen to your body and your doctor's advice on exercise, any exercise will move the needle in a positive direction. But some exercise is more beneficial than others, especially for older adults.

Many older adults were taught that strength training with weights was only for body builders. This is a misperception. You would have to spend hours in the gym every day to get big, bulky muscles like that of a weightlifter.

Incorporating the use of light dumbbells into your workout can have tremendous benefits for active older adults. If you are working out from home and don't have access to hand weights, grab a couple cans of soup from your pantry and get started!

Five tips for beginning weights:

  1. Instead of working both sides of the body, try one side at a time. These exercises can be done standing up or seated in a chair if you are concerned about your balance. Think about exercise as increasing your ability to easily do functional movements used in everyday life, like reaching down to pickup a dropped item. An example is holding a small free weight or soup can and leaning to the side to work your oblique muscles or side abs. Think of bending your lowest rib toward your hip.
  2. Rather than sitting down, try standing up whenever possible. Standing burns more calories than sitting. Standing from a seated position strengthens your leg and glute muscles. A few times a day, practice standing from a chair. Start with about five repetitions and then add in light free weights for extra endurance as these exercises get easier for you.
  3. You don't have to workout at a gym or fitness facility to do strength training. Instead of gym machines, use free weights. And the action of holding onto the handle of a dumbbell or soup can actively works hand muscles and improves grip strength.
  4. Instead of racing through movements, intentionally slow down. It's easy to think speeding through exercise makes it get over with quicker, but while you're getting your heart rate up, your muscles are worked better by slow movements, and you also reduce your risk of pulling a muscle.
  5. Don't only focus on "lifting" and upward movements. There is equal benefit in the downward movement. Think about focusing on sitting in the chair instead of plopping down. This strengthens your lower half.

It is normal to be a little sore if you are new to exercise. Soreness is temporary and goes away after a few days.

It's never too late to start living a longer, healthier life. Get active and feel great!