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 Fitness Programs for Older Adults: Strength Training For Seniors: The Facts  
During the past several years, many studies have highlighted the health value of strength training for aging adults. Research at the University of Maryland has shown that strength training is effective for improving glucose metabolism 1, increasing bone mineral density2, and speeding up gastrointestinal transit3. Studies at Tufts University have demonstrated that strength exercise adds lean tissue 4, increases resting metabolism 5, and reduces arthritic discomfort6. Extensive work at the University of Florida has shown that strength training increases low back strength and alleviates low back pain 7.

From an athletic perspective, research reveals that strength training improves golf performance by increasing club head speed and driving power 8. Empirical evidence indicates that strength exercise may also enhance other physical activities s as tennis 9 and cycling 10.

While all of these health and performance factors are important, perhaps the most compelling concerns for most seniors are the three "B"s. These are bodyweight, body composition, and blood pressure. Generally speaking, senior men and women are concerned about gaining weight, getting soft, and experiencing elevated blood pressure. They have already discovered that dieting doesn't produce permanent weight loss, and that walking is not very effective for firming muscles. Quite true. They are afraid to try strength training because they've heard that it will increase their blood pressure. Untrue.

Several small-scale studies have shown that strength exercise is effective for decreasing bodyweight11, increasing lean weight 12, and reducing resting blood pressure13. In addition, strength training results in a higher resting metabolic rate 14 and greater daily energy utilization 5.

But what specific changes can seniors expect from a basic program of strength exercise? We recently analyzed data on 1,132 men and women who completed the South Shore YMCA basic fitness program 15. All of the participants performed 25 minutes of strength exercise and 25 minutes of endurance exercise, two or three days per week for a period of eight weeks.

The strength training program included the following Nautilus exercises: (1)leg extension; (2) leg curl; (3) leg press; (4) chest cross; (5) chest press; (6) super pullover; (7) lateral raise; (8) biceps curl; (9) triceps extension; (10) low back; (11) abdominal; (12) neck flexion; and (13) neck extension. Each exercise was performed for one set of 8 to 12 repetitions, at a slow movement speed (2 seconds lifting and 4 seconds lowering), and through a full movement range. Resistance was increased by approximately five percent when 12 repetitions were completed.

The endurance training program involved treadmill walking and stationary cycling. Participants exercised at about 70 to 75 percent of their maximum heart rate, and progressively increased their training time to 25 minutes of continuous aerobic activity.

The basic fitness program was offered in a separate and carefully supervised exercise room. Classes were held almost every hour throughout the day, and typically had six participants with two instructors. All class members were assessed for bodyweight, body composition, fat weight, lean (muscle) weight, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure before and after the two-month training period.

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 About The Author
Wayne Westcott PhDWayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......more
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