If you ask any senior citizen about what exercises they do, most likely, you will get answers like walking or yoga. ‘Functional capacity’ is the key to the development, maintenance, and sustainability of old age. By functional capacity, we mean being able to do simple day-to-day tasks, like picking up a kid, sitting and getting off a chair without any support, getting hold of a jar from the overhead kitchen cabinet, or simply opening a bottle of jam. These seemingly innocuous tasks may be extremely difficult for some people, especially for the elderly. Hence, exercise is not only an excellent preventive medicine; it is also the best way to improve the quality of life and live life pain-free.
For all the people, including seniors, I would highly recommend adding resistance training to their workout regime. Resistance can be in the form of weights, bands, or water. Weight training is a low impact, excellent form of exercise that has multiple benefits, including, but not limited to, lean muscle maintenance, joint and bone health, improved nervous system functioning, and fat loss. The most common refrain we get when we recommend weight training is that it will make them bulky. Building muscle is not the only goal of weight training – it can just be one of the many goals of it. The best thing about weight training is that there is no age limit when one can start lifting weights. In the absence of weights, resistance band workouts can also be effective. They come in different levels, both versatile and highly mobile. You can use them at the park, in your home, or office. Resistance bands can, and, in fact, should also be used in conjunction with weight training. Aqua workouts are also fun and highly effective, especially when we head into summers. Water workouts with resistance added, can exponentially improve your fitness levels.
The first step in order to experience the next level of senior fitness is eliminating the mindset of “can’t”, for there is no reason one cannot. The second step is to discard the idea that “walking is good enough” or “weight training is not for me”. Modern fitness and exercise sciences have enough documentary evidence to validate the use of resistance and weight training for seniors. Weight training, two to three days a week, can mange and prevent onset of many diseases, including arthritis, type II diabetes, and coronary heart disease while improving bone density, muscle mass, gait and vitality.
A great asset for seniors can be the use of functional equipments like the kettle bell – it requires very less space, and, the workouts will greatly improve neuromuscular coordination and core strength, bone strengthening, tendons and ligaments – the perfect combination to lead a fully functional and healthy life. Imagine walking up the two flights of stairs without the need to hold the side railings, being able to pick up your grandkids and run around with them in the park, or simply being able to go on that mountain trek that you had been longing for all your life. Let age not be a deterrent to fulfil your dreams.
I have seen 80-year-olds lift weights and kettle bells with the zest and vigour of a 20-year-old; I have seen septuagenarians trek high altitude mountains, matching steps with the young ones. And, these are no “athletes” or professionals, but are regular people who take out some time every day for themselves and use it appropriately to strengthen and condition their bodies. Resistance training and functional training, done properly, can be the panacea for seniors. All that is needed is a shift in the perception and mindset.
(The writer is a fitness educator, coach and consultant. He can be contacted at [email protected])