Sam Bauman: Weightlifting is a good way to prevent falls and fractures

I have often commented on my own exercise routine in connection with my interest with continuing skiing. I’ve worked up a plan that takes between an hour and 90 minutes a day, except for Wednesdays and Sundays, when I cut out the indoor bike (3 miles minimum and treadmill 1 mile at least). I started the regime when I got my iron right knee, figuring I needed the workout to stay capable on the slopes. I recently went to a pro trainer to make sure I was doing the right things. He suggested some minor changes (including joining his gym at a stiff fee; I do all of my stuff at home, using the exercise room of my apartment).

But at the last educational meeting of the RSVP Respite and Transport volunteers, there was a session on strength training, which I thought quite good for seniors. Part of the lecture reported that a Tufts University study that for those older than 65 included this: “If the elderly want to avoid loss of strength that can lead to falls and disabling hip fractures, weightlifting with barbells or gym equipment can be a surprising benefit.”

The Tuft study found that strength training could double or triple strength in two months. Most of “the strength gain is due to increased coordination in the firing of the spinal cord motor neutrons that carry the message to the muscle fibers to contract,” said Dr. Maria Fiatarone of the USDA.

More on the RSVP meeting. First, check with your doctor for an OK to exercise. Be sure and make a pit stop before starting a routine. Remember, muscles have shortened through a lack of exercise and need to be lengthened. If any exercise hurts, stop and let the muscle heal.

Some warnings were surprising. “Walking, running and bicycling are great aerobic exercises to lose weight ... but if you want to burn calories all day, training with weights two or three times a week is the price of the ticket.”

Then a real surprise. “Walking tones certain muscles but doesn’t make up for the constant muscle loss one experiences as they age.”

Size is important when starting strength training. Start out with half-pound weights, going up another half-pound in two weeks, and add a half-pound monthly if comfortable.

The session included a demonstration of light weights by Mary Davis, who regularly teaches a weights class at the Carson City Senior Center. She explained that the exercises she was demonstrating were simple moves, done seated. The moves mostly consisted of well-known moves (check the Internet under basic weight training) done slowly, taking about six to 10 seconds for each rep, never swinging the weight or using momentum to start the lift part. With each rep, inhale before you start and exhale at the start of the movement.

Take a drink of water and rest between the basic 12 exercises. Whichever program you embark on do three sets of one exercise with a day of rest between programs.

I know, lots of unanswered questions there, but that’s where the Internet comes in handy.

Exercise is something that many seniors skip, thinking they are too old for such a thing to help. I know that’s true in my apartment building, which offers well-equipped exercise rooms and a delightful hot tub. I rarely see anyone in either during my regular sessions.

Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.


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