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Why Strength Training Is The Best Anti-Ageing Exercise

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 04 December 2014
Hits: 4672

We have spoken about Strength Training For Older Adults many times before, and the value not to just to our muscles and bones but our overall health and well being. When we say exercise can slow the ageing process we are not necessarily talking about how you look, but more how you function in life. When an older adult comes to see me for the first time and in many cases are very stiff, lack confidence walking up and down stairs, balance is a huge problem and they are noticeably weak, and they feel as if it is too late. Some are on powerful medication with damaging side affects that are merely treating symptoms and speeding up their rate of disability. In many cases older adults are often treated by society as it is too late and an inevitable part of getting old. But it is very important to realize that it is NEVER TOO LATE and that older adults are not merely the sum of their chronic diseases. And they should never be treated as such. Nor should it be assumed that just because they are older they are going to have a whole bag of disease conditions. They may, but they might not. The most important part of understand about exercise is, its impact on "functional capacity" which is what I am going to talk about next. This article we are going to show you real life examples and give you proof of why we ALL should be using Functional Strength Training methods to live a healthier life.

Why We Don't All Age The Same

The pictures above are a perfect example of how people of the same age can move completely different. But how does this work? Is it due to bad luck or genetics that some people are chronically disabled early and some are not? In some cases it may be true, but I have seen people in the 60's recover from spinal cord injuries, or severe car accidents with partial paralysis be able to complete push ups, lift 60kg deadlifts and walk up stairs unassisted with ease after devoting time to building strength and movement. And I have also seen people in their 60's with no previous injury or accident be placed in wheelchairs for they are unable to walk. Every week we work with hundreds of people in our rehabilitation program, our Lift For Life program and various specific programs for Multiple Sclerosis & Cancer, and we use the methods in this article with ALL of them!

The big difference between the two situations just mentioned is, one was prepared to exercise and learn how to move and one was relying on medication, maybe surgery and treatment to relieve pain and avoid exercise and movement altogether.

You can download our detailed FREE Report below that expands on this topic and many more. A must read report for anyone looking to improve their function and not sure how.

 


Here is a summary of what happens when we age and how two people of the same age can end up in completely different situations.

A slowing of neural firing speed, (the brains message to the nerves within muscles for movement) is the main thing for older adults to focus on. Because the consequence from lack of exercise is potentially a slower response time for the initiation of movement. This slower response time may put someone at risk of injury when put in a situation of danger. A perfect example is in the case of a trip or a slip or when on a bus and you are standing up and it takes off quickly. When this occurs a very rapid response must occur so that the individual can adjust their center of gravity, step forward, grab a stationary object, turn or tuck their body into a safer position for impact with the ground, etc. A slowed response which you would see with an older person who has not spent time developing skills of balance but also strength and as we will discuss later, power. The rate of declines vary greatly between person to person. In addition, it is either the severity of these declines or the accumulation that makes the biggest impact.

A severe decline in just one area can greatly impact function but severe declines are more than likely going to be due to a specific disease process.

The graph below (reference: Cody Sipe & Dan Ritchie) shows that two people may be similar in their functional capabilities at the same age and yet their aging trajectories are quite different.

  • The orange line demonstrates the typical trajectory which begins to decline rapidly after the physiological peak in mid-life and is very likely to result in the individual becoming disabled sometime in late life.
  • The blue line represents how an individual can slow down this deterioration (cannot stop it completely) thus maintaining high functional capacity and avoiding disability.

Clients like Laurie Ford are a prime example of this. Because of his commitment to training he is highly functional even at 79 years of age! He works out 2 times per week for an hour each time completing exercises like deadlifts, squats, lunges, push ups and even chin ups. He even uses sprint training intervals as part of his warm up routine! And outside of the gym he is as active as ever playing golf regularly and still sails competitively in the Melbourne to Hobart Yacht race every year! Make sure you watch the video below to see Laurie in action. It is incredible!

There is still some declines that occur because you cannot stop the aging process as you see with elite athletes. Athletes cannot maintain their same levels of performance and therefore performance declines each decade even though they continue to train. But do people understand the importance of function? I think this is an area that many people need to be educated in, including the health profession and personal trainers. The over use of machines, and exercises that are more or less useless to improving function are still the most common things you will see older adults perform. They are used for people deem them to be safer, but I would argue you are making people worse not better, so how can that be safe!

I would also encourage you to read our other articles on Balance Training For Older Adults and also Strength Training For Older Adults

Below is a good video to watch about functional training and the 7 key patterns of movement needed for ALL people to move well in life and also a great video showing some of our exercises and methods used to prevent falls.

The Most Important Question To Ask An Older Adult If They Are Not Sure If They Need To Exercise

When I talk to older people about the need to come and do some training with us, and they tell me they are too old, or they don’t need it, I ask them these questions.

Which of these two possible scenarios do you prefer?

  1. One, you live to 100 years but during the last 10 years you cannot care for yourself and must rely on family, aids, healthcare workers, etc?
  2. Or two, you may only live to 85 or 90 years BUT they are fully capable and healthy right up until the day that they die suddenly in their sleep?

I have never had anyone yet choose option #1. They always choose #2.

So one of our primary goals as Personal Trainers in Melbourne area is to maximize functional capacity and see if we can alter a person’s aging trajectory so that they can maintain optimal function and quality of life. The current method most people are told is to go for a 30 minute walk once a day? Although great to do, this will not make any significant difference at all. The key is to add muscle, but not the way that most people think of, like some muscle bound guy like Arnie getting squashed on a bench press. It is all about improving Function remember. These are exercises that mimic daily activities and for older adults will require certain levels of balance, coordination and even agility.

Watch the videos below for examples of how to do this.

Out of all the skills older adults lose the ability to move quickly is the first. I was surprised when I first read this and doubted it. But when I watched carefully the older adults moving I realized that this was in fact the case. This means we need to not only improve strength but also POWER!

Why Power Training Is Essential For Older Adults!

Yes you read that correctly. The first image that comes in my head when I see the phrase “Power Training for older adults”, is an 80 year old guy performing an Olympic Weightlifting clean and jerk type exercise. But what you will learn is, that power is not always defined as some explosive athletic sporting movement, in many cases it is much simpler than you think and used often in daily life movements by everyone. Remember the bus example earlier!

We all know how important it is to maintain strength, and without a strength training program you will begin to show signs of muscle loss.

Recently, a lot of focus has been given to the importance of muscle power, as research has shown that power declines earlier and faster than muscle strength with advancing age. While muscle strength is essential to successfully completing many functional tasks in later life studies show that muscle power is even more important for many tasks such as stair-climbing and rising from a chair. Muscle, or mechanical, power is defined as the product of force and velocity (force multiplied by velocity). For muscles this equates to how quickly a muscle can generate force. For older adults muscle power has been identified as a critical component for the performance of many functional tasks such as climbing stairs and rising from a chair as well as sporting events. Which you could argue muscle power is possibly much more important to functional task performance than muscle strength! Unfortunately, muscle power decreases even more rapidly than muscle strength with advancing age indicating that movement speed also decreases with advancing age. It has been suggested that this may be due to the preferential the weakening of fast-twitch (Type II) muscle fibres. Many studies indicate that power training may be more advantageous in improving function than traditional strength training methods. High-velocity (power-specific) training also increases muscle power to a greater degree than traditional low-velocity strength training.

What Are Good Power Exercises For The Older Adult?

As mentioned earlier, Power training often brings to mind images of Olympic power lifters completing snatches and clean-and-jerk movements with near-maximal weight. For the senior, power training is typically accomplished by performing the hardest phase of an exercise movements much more rapidly than normal, and then the easier phase at normal controlled speed. In order to make it easier I have put together a few everyday movements, and explain why we classify them as power movement and what exercises you would use to improve strength, as well as power and function.

Squats:

As already discussed the timing needed to go from a squat to standing is a relatively fast movement. Squats we perform everyday when we sit in a chair and stand up again. They also share the same relative tiiming as jumping. To stand up slowly is a deterioration in function. Have you ever seen a person get up slowly from a chair? It is hard work. Exercises in the gym like the squat will improve this. See picture below of life movement and then Melissa showing you a squat at the bottom and also as a squat about to jump.

   

Torsonator Squat Press:

This is a very interesting exercise that mimics pushing something, eg moving furniture or pushing a wheelbarrrow. Again the squat action is needed here and for good reason. The energy must be created from the legs and through the core in order to create momentum and energy. And for the timing to be right and allow the weaker arms to cheat through the hardest part of the movement it needs to be done with a fast action! Below is another real life example followed by the picture of Melissa completing the gym exercise

   

Step Up onto Box:

Step ups are a very difficult exercise for the older adult as it requires strength, balance and once again a fast explosive movement in order to be done efficiently and safely. This exercise is very similar to walking up stairs or needing to get up a big step! One of the most functional exercises we teach in our Personal Training lessons and also the one many older people fear! Below is example again of the real life movement and Melissa completing the gym movement.

   

Now there is a stack more exercises you could use, this just gives you an example of some that are easily adapted and used in the gym. Using exercises to enhance balance, agility and the movement pattern of walking are critical and greatly enhance the function for the power movements.

One of the best walking drills we use is featured in the video below.


Want More Proof That This Works?

Read the story below of Roger from our Stronger For Longer program.

"For some time I had been experiencing butt pain which was particularly severe when I drove my car. On top of this I had other issues but worst of all I was feeling very sluggish every time I rode my bike. Eventually I turned to Doctor Google and after some research concluded I had piriformis syndrome as did last months client of the month, in my case probably caused by years of driving with my wallet in my back pocket. I needed treatment and once again turned to google where after a refined search I was led to No Regrets gym in Mitcham, how good was that, I live in Blackburn. I had a chat with Nick who knew all about piriformis and he laid out an exercise program which he claimed would clear the pain but not be a cure, I believe there is no cure. I decided to go to the Stronger For Longer classes twice a week just to see if that helped. Within weeks my butt pain had gone but there were added benefits, I was fitter and stronger, I had more flexibility and was able to touch my toes something I haven’t done in a long time, I was flying on my bike and although I hadn’t lost any weight I was fitting into suits I hadn’t worn for years. Our instructors Elley and Dylan throw in a lot of variety which keep the workouts interesting and fun. Both understand our individual weaknesses and strengths and are able to run balanced sessions, but if I want extra laughs I just tune into the Thursday morning ladies – their chat is often hilarious! More recently I had scans on my hips and was advised I had significant arthritis. I asked the Doc what he was going to do about it and he said, “Nothing”, “Just take a pain killer if you are in pain but keep going to the gym, it’s the only thing that will help". I am now a gym junkie whether I like it or not!" - Roger Sowerby

And here is some great story of Frank Cannizzo a client recovering from a spinal cord injury. Although not as old as Roger his injury could easily leave his body in a state of complete disability if he did not learn how to strengthen his body and move. I have seen countless people with injuries much less severe than his rapidly deteriorate and end up in a wheelchair in their early 60's!

"My journey started some 18 months ago. After a couple of years of trying to find a cause for my back pain,  the doctors found that I had a 65mm long tumour growing inside my spinal cord between T4 – T7 vertebrae. I never would have expected anything like that! Doing nothing was not an option, so I was booked in and had the tumour surgically removed. Doctors did say there was a chance of paraplegia, but I thought that would never happen to me. “Lucky Frank” ! The tumour was benign, but it did leave me numb from the waist down and with no motor function in my left leg and impaired sensory function in both legs. I had never been in a wheelchair before but soon mastered it, as it was the only way I could get around. I spent hours just doing laps of my ward at Cabrini. Determined to regain some sort of mobility.

I then proceeded to endure a couple of months in Rehab at Caulfield Hospital. Great staff and facilities, but the accommodation and food are a good reason to get well as soon as possible and get the hell out of there. I was doing rehab at the Angliss when my wife asked me to consider coming down to No Regrets. Nella was doing the cancer patients program and was really loving her time with Elley and the crew. She told me about some of the different people that No Regrets had worked with, and how they had some amazing results. I came on down and had a chat with Nick and have never looked back. I have gone from barely being able to struggle from the street into the Gym, to now being able get around the garden, mow the lawn, wash the car and do all those things we take for granted when you are able bodied. Although still reliant on my faithful crutch, I am moving with some confidence and a lot more stability than months gone by. With the structured exercise programs developing core and targeted areas, we have been working towards getting up and down stairs, up and down off the ground, bending , stretching, and all movements which are part of every day life. Challenging the body to re learn and find new ways of getting these legs working again

Elley and Dylan are always encouraging and supporting me, and with Nick Nathan and Mel all putting their two bobs worth in, how can you go wrong? There is a wealth of knowledge and experience there, and they always have the day’s workout prepared and ready for me. It was pretty sedate in the past, but as I improve, the buggers are starting to make me sweat!!

I have found it a great environment to be in at No Regrets, and find encouragement from fellow clients like Dave and Laurie a great help to make sure you never miss a session. No excuses , No Regrets!

I have heard about good personal trainers, but I think this place is pretty special.

Thanks No Regrets". - Frank Cannizzo

CONCLUSION

I hope you do believe me now when I say you can slow down the ageing process and do many things you enjoy right up into your 80’s. It is not easy and you can never stop for if you do your muscle loss and ability to move will be rapid. Clients featured in this article like Laurie Ford, Roger and also Frank are proof that amazing things can be achieved if you are given the right type of training and remain consistent enough to keep improving. It is never too late to start, so start now! If you would like to know more about Lift For Life and Stronger For Longer programs fill in the form below and I will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a time for a free consultation and movement assessment.