Exercise in general is crucial for women over 60 years old, and strength training is particularly helpful. The aging process makes muscle and bone deteriorate, flexibility disappear and metabolism slow. Regular exercise can slow these symptoms of age and help keep the body healthy for as long as possible.
The Changing Body
According to Dr. Wayne L. Westcott, inactive adults lose 1/2 lb. of muscle each year during their 30s and 40s. For people over 50, this rate can double to 1 lb. every year. During midlife years, people tend to lose 5 lbs. of muscle and gain 15 lbs. of fat every decade. A woman in her 60s might have 20 lbs. less muscle and 60 lbs. more fat than she did in her 20s. Consuming fewer calories could help her lose weight but will do nothing to slow the loss of muscle. That’s where strength training comes in.
A good strength training regimen covers all the major muscle groups, using weight machines, free weights or other exercise equipment. One study of older women included only the leg extension, leg press, back extension, pull down and abdominal curls. Other programs include many more exercises, such as more specialized exercises for different muscles in the arms and back. The more exercises a strength training program incorporates, the fewer sets of each exercise a person does.
Resistance and Repetitions
Weight training for seniors is not much different from weight training for younger adults. The heavier the weights, the fewer the repetitions exercisers should perform. Most adults can do eight to 12 repetitions at 75 percent of their maximum resistance. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests 10 to 15 repetitions at a lower weight for seniors. According to Dr. Westcott, seniors should rest for at least two minutes between sets.
Good for the Brain
A study in British Columbia compared two groups of women between ages 65 and 75. One group did strength training with weight machines or dumbbells once or twice a week. The other did toning and balance exercises. After a year, tests showed the first group had improved cognitive functions such as focus, conflict resolution and decision making by 10.9 percent to 12.6 percent. The scores of the toning and balance group fell slightly over the same period.
Strength Training and Osteoporosis
Bone density and osteoporosis are big concerns for seniors. A woman’s bone density peaks at age 35. Then it decreases slowly until menopause. Post-menopause sees a sharp drop in bone density, unless the woman does hormone replacement therapy. But those who participate in weight-bearing exercise and strength training do much better. Even well past menopause, some research shows that weight training can significantly increase bone density.