Thursday, 11 February 2021 15:03
By Matt Goodemote, MPSPT, DIP. MDT | Families Today
Photos by Sarah Avery. Photos by Sarah Avery.

I am preparing for a presentation on strength training for seniors that I will be giving over the next several weeks at different locations in Saratoga County, and thought it would be a good idea to share the material I’m using for my talks in this article.

Aging is associated with a number of physiologic and functional declines that can contribute to increased disability, frailty, and falls. Over the last year I have started to taste the effects of age on recovery and it has given me a new appreciation and motivation for the value of lifting weights. 

I noticed over the summer that when I was getting off the floor I was doing this weird thing where I was trying to avoid using my knees. I have some old basketball injuries that are long since healed...but remind me time passes by for us all! 

One day getting off the floor, It occured to me, “Oh...this is how avoiding movements for fear of pain starts!”

I have talked to senior groups for years and talked specifically how important it was to “use it or lose it.” This slogan is specifically true with joints and muscles. For some reason we start to avoid movements that aren’t comfortable and as we do this we start to go down a bad spiral where we avoid more and more. Over the last several years I have read multiple research articles on the importance of movement for joint health and more recently about how important staying strong is for our muscles AND our joint health. 

One of the facts of life is the loss of muscle mass and strength as age increases. It happens to all of us. Current research has demonstrated over and over again that strength training exercises (i.e. specifically lifting weights) have the ability to counteract the weakness and frailty of ageing. 

Ideally, strength training will be done regularly (e.g., at least 2 to 3 days per week). Strength training has the ability to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and the signs and symptoms of numerous chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, while also improving sleep and reducing depression. Lifting weights helps to build muscle strength, increase muscle mass and preserve bone density (especially important for osteoporosis) These benefits lead to more independence and vitality with age.

The U.S.Department of Health and Human Services recommends that “all adults do some type of strength training that hits all the major muscle groups at least two times per week.”

Despite this, around 80% of adults are not engaging in enough physical activity to reach prescribed guidelines. For seniors, inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are extremely dangerous. The risk of falling and recovering from a fall are greatly increased with a sedentary lifestyle. 

More and more research has shown that weightlifting is hugely beneficial but unfortunately the belief that light walking or recreational activity is “good enough” for seniors. I agree that something is most definitely better than nothing, but I also know that adding a couple days a week of lifting weights can not only help maintain a mild activity level, it can also enhance and improve your activity level. There is this old myth that older individuals should stay away from activities that can build strength like weightlifting. This is simply not true. The recommendation for “light activity” is a pet peeve of mine. We recommend, with good intentions, to reassure people they won’t get hurt if they take it easy, but as I mentioned earlier this is absolutely not true for joint health, muscle health, bone health, and overall function. When we don’t use it...we lose it! 

Our body was meant to move and be used to the greatest ability we are capable of, not the least amount we are capable of! AND it is NEVER too late to start!

Taking it easy, for some, is the very obstacle that stands in the way of a healthy life. And, unfortunately this myth of taking it easy, keeps people in the dark about the benefits of strength training. 

It is also common for people to be afraid of starting a program for fear about “doing the right thing” and making sure they are “doing the technique correctly.” In addition there are a lot of older people with specific injuries and/or limitations due to old injuries. These are reasonable concerns and my staff and I have been working with the office of the ageing to offer a strength training program that will address these specific issues and provide a safe environment for strength training. 

In the meantime, as a PT, I think it is wise to get an assessment to see what limitations you may have, and how to address them in a way that is unique to your individual issues. Learning what to do can ensure you safely start a program instead of using your injuries or old injuries can become an excuse to “wait until I feel better” to get started. The sad truth is that waiting can make you more susceptible to injuries. 

Inactivity can make you more susceptible to falls and make it more difficult to recover after falling. Research shows that resistance exercise helps improve your balance and it can even reduce your risk of falls by up to 50%. We know that stronger muscles help us walk better, transition from sitting to standing better, climb stairs better and perform normal activities around the home and community better. In addition, “if” we fall, strength training has been shown to help us recover better and resume our normal life activities. 

In addition to the benefits to the musculoskeletal system, weight training also has a positive effect on other chronic conditions that are common for older individuals. Strength training has been shown to help people with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, depression, and sleep. 

Some of the benefits of lifting weights are indirect. For example, building more muscle will help to control our weight because our resting metabolism is higher with more muscle mass. More muscle also helps control blood sugar levels which in turn is beneficial for people dealing with diabetes. In addition, more muscle helps with controlling weight gain which in turn helps our overall heart health.

Strength training has also been shown to help in areas that we wouldn’t necessarily think they could, like our mental health. Lifting weights seems to improve mood while reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. These effects, in turn have also been shown to help with sleep and overall mental well-being. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brain health as well!

The more research I did into the benefits of strength training the more clear the picture became...it helps in more ways than I have time to write about. There were even studies done on severely impaired individuals with the same type of results...improvement in physical function, overall health and mental health. 

Building strength is important for people of ALL ages and can improve quality of life for ALL ages. At GPT we work with you by assessing your individual needs and impairments due to ageing and/or injury. We focus on education, ensuring good form for you (as opposed to a generic version of good form) and progress you safely. If you have any questions or would like help getting started please give us a call at 518-306-6894 or email me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thanks for reading!!

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