A while back I was working with an older client during a series of personal training sessions.  While this client was somewhat active, she maintained a belief she was much older and less capable than she truly was.  I mean FAR less capable.  She was actually in her late 60’s at the time; older, but not quite ready to be put out to pasture, as it were.

She had convinced herself she could only use the very lightest dumbbells for the majority of her exercises, even when it was clear she could lift far more.  Quite often, when I handed her a pair of 10 pound dumbbells, she would look at me with a bit of surprise and ask, “Are you sure this isn’t too much?”  I replied, “I’m very sure.   Give it a try.”  Of course, she was able to complete the set quite easily.

How does this mindset come about?

How does an otherwise healthy individual convince him or herself they are weak to the point of disability, yet the only ‘condition’ she suffers from is being chronologically older than a certain percentage of the population?

The alarming part of the story is that many older adults are convinced they are incapable of doing certain tasks.  I don’t mean you should go to the gym today and try to deadlift 400 pounds because some younger gym member can do it.  But…you MUST start somewhere and build up.

Your body craves movement.  Many people do not realize the ‘trauma’ to the human body comes when we stop moving.  I am sure many of you have read the resent series of studies detailing exactly how unhealthy sitting for long periods of time can be.

This is trauma.  Our bodies go through a series of extremely unhealthy responses when we sit for extended periods.  Here is a short list of conditions created or worsened by prolonged sitting:

  • Heart disease
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Increase in certain cancers (colon, breast and endometrial)
  • Circulation disorders of the lower body
  • ‘Foggy brain’
  • Disk damage
  • Softer bones

In short, once you stop moving – due to either age or occupation – a downward spiral of health is virtually certain!

This past Friday, I did a presentation for the Town of Andover at the Center at Punchard (the Senior Center).  Most of the folks in the audience were over 60 years of age.  The talk was on gluten and grains, but inevitably the conversation touched upon strength training.  When I stated EVERYONE should be lifting weights I got many stunned looks.

It was as if strength training was reserved only for the young.

Strength training is the ONLY way to preserve valuable muscle mass and live a longer healthier life.  One woman asked me, “How many days per week do I need to lift weights?”  I am sure she was hoping I would say only one or two.  I answered, “Three days per week. Minimum.”  She was aghast.

Many people in the room were regular walkers.  Which is AWESOME!  People who walk regularly live longer.  Period.  However, walking only addresses cardio-vascular and general fitness issues.  Walking will NOT preserve muscle mass, especially in the upper body.

Another gentleman asked why he was actually losing weight each year.  He did not want to and rightly so.  He appeared to have normal healthy body mass.  I commended him of his awareness of his body mass.  I explained it was likely he was suffering from muscular atrophy.  Each year after age 40 we lose up to one-half pound of muscle mass.  There is only one way to stop this pattern.

Can you guess what that is?

Lifting weights is what we were meant to do.  We are ALL capable of much more than we believe we can do.  Increases in strength levels can be achieved into our nineties.  Fact.

I would rather suffer through the occasional stress and strain of sore or even painful muscles then the indignity of disabling muscular atrophy brought about by sheer inactivity. 

Start slowly.

Steadily Increase the frequency and volume of the load you are lifting.

Change the exercises you are doing every month or so.  You must challenge the muscles or they will not grow.

Lift weights for 30 minutes then do interval training for 30 minutes.

Do this a minimum of 3 days per week.

Add a long power walk on the weekend – preferably outdoors.  People who walk faster live longer.  Fact.

Society has certain expectations for those over 50 or 60 years of age.  We should all strive to DEFY these expectations.  We are all capable of more.

Grab the heavier set of dumbbells.