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To Lift or Not To Lift?

| Jeremy Kethley |

What do you know about aging muscles? Most people do not realize that we reach our peak strength in our 30’s, and there is a gradual decline every decade after that. Loss of muscle mass then starts to accelerate in our 50’s. However, advancing age is only partially the culprit. Declining levels of activity are also responsible for losses in muscle mass. There are multiple health implications that result from lack of activity.  They can range from an increased risk of falls, trouble lifting objects like boxes and dishes overhead, climbing up and down stairs, and standing up from a sofa or getting up from the ground.

When we think about lifting weights, what normally comes to mind are action movie stars with huge muscles, and catch phrases like “I’ll be back.” But the everyday non-movie stars need strength and power too! Every time we stand up from a chair, we sit up in bed, pick up a grandkid or pet, we require power from our muscles. The strength we have when we are young will not remain over the decades unless we continue to use it.

How do we fix this problem? Adults of all ages should perform regular exercise, and it is never too late to begin a weight lifting program. Studies have shown that older adults adapt very well to a weight training program that consists of 2-3 workouts per week, and have noticeable increases in muscle mass. Another great aspect about weight training is that it has been shown to increase bone density and fight osteoporosis (thinning of bone). Aerobic training provides many great health benefits, however has not been shown to increase bone density.

Weight training recommendations for older adults are the following: a frequency of 2-3 days per week (two is preferred to allow enough recovery time), 8-15 repetitions, and 2-4 sets. The recommended intensity is 60-80% of a person’s 1 repetition-maximum. The 1 rep-max (or 1 RM) is a calculation of the maximum amount of weight a person can lift in a single repetition for a given exercise. There are various ways to calculate the 1 RM, and all should be performed carefully under the supervision of a professional.

As with any health condition, consult with your doctor before making any changes to your exercise program, or beginning a new one, and be sure to work with a licensed physical therapist  trained in working with the older population.  You can go to and search for more information on the benefits from weight training.

By: Brenda Walk, SPT