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Most of us automatically think of strength training as pumping iron at the gym, but, believe it or not, building muscle is actually the holy grail when it comes to staying healthy and ageing well. According to health experts, doing simple strength exercises is the key to maintaining better muscle function as you age so that you can keep doing all the things you love for longer. So, here's why strength training is important as you get older, plus a few simple strength exercises that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.
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Including strengthening exercises and activities in your routine at least twice a week can help you to turn back the clock by up to 20 years. If we allow nature to take its course, every year our muscles shrink by 1-2% which leads to us becoming weaker, making us more prone to falls, illness and even early death.
As we age, muscle loss (or sarcopenia) creeps up on us unnoticed, especially after the age of 50, reducing our muscle mass and therefore our strength year on year. This is partly due to a natural ageing process when signals for muscle cell growth are disrupted, but also a sedentary lifestyle.
Absolutely not. In fact, research has shown that even in your 90s you can still improve strength, power and muscle growth after just 12 weeks of resistance training. National guidelines say that people over the age of 65 should do strengthening exercises at least twice a week along with at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or activity. So even if you walk every day, you still need to do something that works your muscles in your upper and lower body.
Bodyweight exercises, such as the 'sit to stand', walking up the stairs or doing the plank, are all great ways to strengthen muscles, but you do need to add in some progression. As your body adapts and becomes stronger, we need to make it work a little harder.
To strengthen your arms, shoulders, chest and back, it’s often easier to work with small weights or resistance bands rather than do bodyweight exercises, such as press-ups. For example, biceps curls or arm raises can be done with a resistance band or even tins of soup! Aim to do 10 repetitions then rest for a minute, then try to do another 10. Gradually, as you find this becoming easier, you can build up to three sets of 10 repetitions, then it’s time to make the weight heavier or the band stronger.
Ideally, we would all make time to fit in a full strengthening routine twice a week, but if time is short (or motivation is lacking), these four simple exercises can be done every day when you’re busy doing other things.
Think of the word BuiLDS which stands for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Supper – doing this will help you build resistance exercises into your routine and build muscle tone. Plus, each exercise only takes a few minutes.
When you’re brushing your teeth, try standing on one leg and balance for 30 seconds then repeat on the other leg. Engage your core muscles, then soften the knee on the supporting leg and lift the other foot off the floor – you can hold onto the sink for support at first. Build up to holding for 30 seconds without wobbling – you’ll not only improve your leg muscles and balance, but you’re also loading the bones on the supporting leg to prevent conditions like osteoporosis.
Climbing stairs is one of the best exercises you can do whether it’s at the office, shopping centre or even at home. If you walk up and down the stairs 10 times you’ll be burning off calories, improving your heart and strengthening your leg, hip and bum muscles too.
Stand away from the kitchen work surface and place your hands a shoulder-width apart. Engage your core muscles then bend your elbows to slowly dip down and push back up with control. Make sure you don’t bend in the middle but that you do breathe normally throughout. Try to do 10 with control, then progress by standing further away. Build up to doing three sets of 10 as you improve.
At last you’re sitting down watching TV – but you can still build in a leg strengthener here by sitting up tall and lifting one leg up in front, hold for 10 seconds then lower it slowly and repeat 10 times on each leg. As you get stronger you can add ankle weights to give your quads a great workout when you’re watching your favourite programme.
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As you begin to build strength training into your daily life, you’ll notice the positive results in terms of muscle tone and function, but then it’s time to progress a little further. Try these quick and easy strength training exercises using a simple resistance band.
Tie a loose knot in a resistance band and place it over the top of the door. Close the door to keep the band in place. Then hold the band, grip it as if you were shaking hands, with a slight bend at the elbow. Straighten your arm, increasing the tension on the band - you’ll feel your triceps working as you do. Aim for 10 repetitions on each arm, controlling the movement. As you improve, build up to three sets of 10.
Sit in an upright chair with your feet and knees together. Wrap the band around your thighs just a few inches up from your knees. Edge your feet apart and then bring your knees apart so that your feet, knees and hips are all lined up. Push your thighs against the band and takes your knees apart against the resistance then release back slowly and with control 10 times. As you improve you can hold for up to five seconds each time and then build up to doing three sets of 10.
Put the band around your back and hold the band with your palms facing down. Slowly push forward to extend the band then bend the elbows and release the band as if you’re rowing 10 times. As you improve, you can hold for up to five seconds each time and then build up to doing three sets of 10.
Stand with the band under both feet and hold the band at your sides. Gradually lower your bottom back and down as if going towards an invisible chair. Make sure your knees stay behind the end of your toes. Now stand back up slowly – you may need to adjust where you grip the band to make this harder on your legs. Repeat 10 times then, as you improve, build up to doing three sets of 10.
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Disclaimer: The information on our fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.