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Weightlifting for Older People



When you think of a person at retirement age or later, you don’t often think of them as a “power lifter.” Using heavy weights at the gym seems like something for younger people or people who are concerned about how they look in the mirror. But that’s not always the case! Nora Langdon of Michigan, 65, has competed in weightlifting competitions, and since training has been able to lift over 300 pounds(!) in the deadlift (which is picking the weight up off the ground and standing). Of course, not all of us can lift that much, even in our younger years. For elder persons who may struggle with mobility or have health issues, exercising that intensely is of course not possible. But the benefits of lifting weights, no matter how light, are real and documented.


A recent study found that elder people 85 or older who were able to train strength and balance three times a week or more had a 28% lower chance of death than those who did no exercise at all. In addition, some senior centers and organizations have started to include strength and balance exercises in their activities and routines. These routines can be something as simple and low-impact as raising 5lb weights overhead for a few repetitions, or doing leg lifts with small ankle weights. Even using elastic bands to stretch out your muscles with resistance can be of great benefit to elder health.


One of the most worrying things for elder relatives and friends is the gradual loss of balance as we get older. A fall for an older person can be traumatic and seriously harmful to their overall health and well-being. Even elder persons who had been thriving before can suffer serious decline after a fall and the recovery from an injury. Strength and Balance training can offset this risk, and help elders be more nimble and sure on their feet. I’m sure all of us would feel more confident and sure-footed walking upstairs if we exercised consistently instead of sitting on the couch!


Although the phrase “strength training” brings to mind an image of a bodybuilder or a football player lifting the weight of three or four people, it doesn’t have to be that way. As mentioned, something as simple as seated exercises with small 5lb weights can have a measurable impact on elder person’s mobility and balance, as well as overall health. Exercising with weights trains our muscles to be stronger and more solid, as well as encouraging our bodies to have a better “kinesthetic” awareness (hand-eye coordination). Along with aerobic activity, such as talking a walk or dancing to music, strength exercises have great benefit for elders.


Although 99% of people aren’t able to lift over 300lbs in retirement (or even way before retirement!) like Nora Langdon, exercising with weights and working on balance is an important part of staying healthy, fit, and able for older adults. Especially for those elder persons in retirement, who may no longer be active at their job or otherwise, keeping up with staying in shape goes a long way to having a happy, healthy, and fulfilling Elderhood.


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