While there was a time strength training brought to mind the image of body builders pumping huge amounts of iron, it is now widely shown that strength training is important for everyone in maintaining health over a lifetime. “It can slow and reverse age-related declines in muscle mass and endurance, which can keep older adults healthier, longer,” says Kelly Macauley, a clinical instructor with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions.  Strength training (also called weight training and resistance training) is essential because it can help reduce the risk of back pain, falls, osteoporosis, and depression.  It may even help reduce pain associated with arthritis says Macauley.  “Increased strength increases stability around joints,” she says.  Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health recently found that 150 minutes of weight training per week can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 34%.  Studies also suggest that older adults who strength train two to three times per week appear to have improved cognitive function compared to those who don’t.

So how do you get started?  Check with your doctor first to make sure you are up to the challenge.  Once you get an okay you should enlist a trained professional such as a physical therapist, or trainer to show you how to slowly begin. They can help you start with exercises that make sense for your body and present health.  Many senior centers, the YMCA and health clubs have supervised programs – with professionals who can show you how to use the equipment.  Weight machines and free weights can both be incorporated into a strength training program.  Machines work well because they help to guide you through a movement, and they can be adjusted to work best for your body.  Free weights let a person use his or her own body motion, which helps with coordination and balance.  Macauley cautions though that machines provide more support, and there are fewer chances of hurting yourself than there are with free weights.  Beginning with just a few exercises initially will help to avoid injury.  Working all the  major muscle groups is beneficial, but if you are an older adult, strengthening the muscles around the hips and pelvis, and the large leg muscles including the quadriceps and hamstrings is vital, particularly if you have arthritis in the knee…….   Harvard Health Newsletter   10/8/12


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