Live Strong and Prosper

by Brace Hayden

There are many advantages to maintaining your muscle and bone health as you age, the least of which might be living long enough to see then ext “Star Trek” series for more sage advice from ancient sci-fi heroes like Mr. Spock.

Growing old is often associated with many undesired reductions like slowed physical activity, muscular atrophy, compressed cartilage, worn tendons, thinning hair … along with a thinning patience for bad pop
music. Increases that the advanced-aged can expect come with elevated blood pressure, more time at
the doctor’s office, and increased disease processes associated with aging.1 The upshot to the functional impacts of living longer is despite the inevitable list of reductions, you can do a lot to stay independent and fit.

The mature adult can expect, even in the absence of a disease process (osteoarthritis, for example),
structural and functional joint changes to occur. If there was one medication that could help maintain
and increase your physical strength and fitness, improve your balance, reduce feelings of depression and elevate your feelings of well-being, and bolster your resilience against diseases like diabetes and heart complications – it would be EXERCISE.1

Not exactly a convenient pill, but movement is the best medicine for your joints, cardiovascular system, and mind.

Why strength train? A few big motivators for most seniors are daily tasks like lifting your own bags of
groceries in and out of your car, loading your own carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment, or even getting up off the ground.

A physical therapist, personal trainer, group fitness class, or workout companion can offer the support
you need to begin a new exercise routine. If you are experiencing discomfort in your joints or having
difficulty getting around, a physical therapist can offer individualized treatment and an exercise program to increase your strength and balance.

Personal trainers can help design customized exercise programs. Many communities have group fitness
classes designed for seniors. In addition, many people find success in getting a workout buddy to hold them accountable and consistent.

A well-balanced fitness program for older adults should include strength exercises to maintain or build muscle and boost your metabolism. Balance exercises help improve the steadiness on your feet and can decrease your risk of falling. Stretching helps keep your joint movements free and reduce natural stiffening of (you name it) your back, knees, hips and fingers. Lastly, daily endurance exercise
for 30-60 minutes are critical to keeping our heart and lungs circulating well and giving us the stamina to stay active.2

To build a solid strength program, keep these basics in mind: dosing, discipline and deploying the big muscle groups. The dosage: strength train three days each week, with one to two sets of 10-20 repetitions per exercise, for a total duration of least 20-30 minutes. Maintaining or building your strength takes discipline, which is why classes, trainers, or fitness buddies will increase the likelihood of sticking with a program. Gradually build up your weight.

If you are new to strength training, start with no weight or light weights, as heavier weights can cause injuries or joint discomfort. Adding incremental amounts of weight to challenge your muscles will help develop strength gains and adapt your body to the increased demands. Try adding one to two pounds every week for functional strength improvements.3

I often incorporate these three exercises in a general strength program: modified push-ups, partial squats, and single leg step-ups. Performing a push-up on a counter top or the back of a sturdy couch helps develop upper body strength in the pectoral, triceps, and many shoulder blade muscles. The partial squat or “touch-your-bottom-to-a chair” helps build your legs’ power muscles like the quads and gluteals. The single leg step up can be done on the standard entry way or basement step. The railing can be used for a little assistance or not used for an added balance challenge. Be sure to go slow, make each repetition count, and stop once the muscle is fatigued or lightly burning.

For the do-it-yourself crowd, the National Institute on Aging has a fantastic website ( with free DVDs, exercise booklets, goal and plan developing sheets, and many other motivational tools.

The bottom line to improving your fitness and gaining the most benefit from an exercise program is to stick with it, enjoy your exercises, and be safe while exercising. In closing, and the appropriate reply for this article’s adapted title of “Star Trek’s” Vulcan salutation, “live long and prosper,” is “have peace and a long life.”

Brace Hayden, DPT, OCS, CSCS is a physical therapist that specializes in strength and conditioning and balance and vestibular therapy at Alpine Physical Therapy in Missoula, MT.

1) Guccione, A. Geriatric Physical Therapy. Mosby. St. Louis, MO
2) 4 Types of Exercises. Retrieved from:
3) Fekete, M. Strength Training for Seniors: How to Rewind Your Biological Clock. Hunter House. Newport, RI

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