You’re Never Too Old – for Weightlifting

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Exercise, exercise… You get a little tired of hearing about it, don’t you? Seems like it’s the cure-all for everything these days, from cancer to cardiac issues, osteoporosis to just plain old age.

    Sure, you get tired of hearing about exercise. But do you also get just plain tired? More tired than you think you should be, at your age? So tired that even something as simple as getting out of a chair makes you think twice?

    Then you may be feeling the muscle loss that comes with aging. And it’s about time you started working on regaining at least some of the strength you had 5, 10, or even 20 years ago.

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    It’s possible, you know. What you need is resistance training – one form of which is weight lifting.

    “Weight lifting?! At MY age?”

    Hold on, now; before you get carried away with visions of heavy barbells crashing to the floor, Charles Atlas, and muscle-bound women power-lifters bulging out of their skimpy bikinis, let’s take a reality check.

    Resistance training – weight lifting – can be as complex as a computer-driven circuit of multiple machines, each programmed to work a particular part of your body.

    Or as simple as getting up out of that aforementioned chair.

    The point of resistance training is to put stress on your muscles and bones. Not harmful stress; but the stress that comes from moving just beyond their comfort zone, to the point where they have to stretch a bit (in the case of muscles), or carry more weight than they’re used to (your bones).

    Every time you stress muscles and bones, they’re forced to get into gear and rebuild the tiny bit of damage that’s been done. But in the process, they don’t just repair what’s been damaged; they make it stronger.

    And that’s how you build strong muscles and bones – in small increments, over time. The stronger you are, the less likely you are to fall, the less brittle your bones, the more able you are to avoid osteoporotic fractures.

    So, how to begin? As with any journey, taking the first step is often the hardest. Here are a few suggestions for ways to start building bone and muscle right now.

    •Practice getting out of your easy chair. Many older adults have to try two, three, or more times to push themselves out of a chair, particularly one with deep, comfortable cushions. Work on pushing equally with both arms and legs. Stand up, sit down, stand up again. Repeat as many times as you can times before going back to watching TV or reading.

    •Try storing canned and bottled goods on kitchen or pantry shelves that are eye level or higher. Most jars of spaghetti sauce are 1 ½ pounds; Canned juice is at least 2 pounds, sometimes 3 pounds. Lift with one arm, and set on the shelf. Take it down, and try again. Repeat until you feel tired. But be careful; as you run out of steam, you’re more prone to drop things.

    •A half-gallon of milk weighs 4 pounds. Set down your grocery bags on the opposite end of the kitchen from the refrigerator. Carry milk back and forth to the fridge, holding it out in front of you rather than down at your side.

  • •Are you a gardener? Spading a garden, or using a trowel, both qualify as resistance training. Get out there and plant some flowers!

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    •How about turning housework into exercise? Pushing a heavy vacuum cleaner is good for your whole body – so long as you put your legs into it, and not just push with your arms. And moving furniture out of the way to clean under and behind it is great – just make sure to get some help with the heavier pieces.

    OK, now that you’ve started the process, you may find youself feeling better. Now you’re ready to move onto more traditional training – with actual weights or resistance bands.

    •Does the place you live have a recreation area, somewhere you can go to walk on a treadmill or take an exercise class? USE IT. It’s not just for the younger folks. See if you can get a friend to go with you; exercise is always more fun if you can chat as you work out.

    •Your best bet, with exercise machines, is to find someone to show you how they work. Then start with the lightest possible weight. More repetitions of a lower weight are safer and more effective than lifting a heavy weight just a few times.

    •Resistance bands – those colorful elastic bands you’ll see hanging around the gym – come in different strengths. Find out which has the least resistance (they’re color coded), and start there. Grasp a band in both hands and pull apart, like you were playing the accordion. Loop one end securely under your foot, and pull up. You’ll quickly figure out how they work.

    •Enroll at a Curves gym. I joined Curves a year ago, and my strength has improved significantly. The entire workout takes just 30 minutes; and it’s fun. I exercise with a group of women ranging in age from mid 20s to late 80s; we spend the entire time chatting and laughing.

    Your strength is assessed regularly, and each of the machines is automatically set, by computer, to provide the perfect amount of resistance for YOU. Don’t worry; you don’t have to know anything about computers! All you have to do is insert your keytag into each machine, and it “recognizes” you, then determines how much you need to lift that day.

    During your workout you’ll alternate 30 seconds of resistance training with 30 seconds of aerobic activity – dancing, jumping, jogging in place. I choose to jump up and down – wonderful weight-bearing exercise for my legs, hips, and back. After struggling with steadily worsening T-scores the past several years, I can’t wait for my DEXA scan this fall – to see how much they’ve improved!

    Resistance training. Weight lifting. Exercise. It’s not just for kids. It’s for anyone who wants to feel better – stronger, healthier, steadier on their feet. It’s for YOU. Start today – you won’t regret it. The only thing you have to lose is weak bones and muscles!

Published On: April 21, 2011