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Activity fights the ills that get you down

By Chris Tzar (Australia)

No one is too old to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity. Of special interest to older adults is evidence that muscle-strengthening exercises can reduce the risk of falling and fracturing bones and can improve the ability to live independently - US Surgeon General

Australia's population is ageing, and rapidly. Despite the proven benefits of exercise most adults fail to perform to the level required to maintain good health, even when their knowledge of the benefits of exercise is quite considerable.

Understanding the specific needs of this age group, and the barriers that are more common among older adults, are critical to achieving success in promoting exercise.

Although a lack of time is the most common reason for inactivity in younger adults, this generally becomes a less significant barrier as one ages. Adults aged 50 and older will list their health issues as a more common barrier to physical activity. The increasing number of overweight older adults with chronic disease or disability restricts their opportunity for routine exercise.

However, in most cases, it is all the more reason for an older adult to start exercising. Whether increasing the levels of incidental activity or performing a tailored exercise program, physical activity has been shown to address all major age-related chronic diseases.

On the evidence that has accumulated to date to remain sedentary when one has developed a chronic disease state is to contribute to the decline in one's health. It is now clear that inactivity leads to a downward spiral of deconditioning, as it has both a cause and effect relationship with many conditions and illnesses.

Strength training receives much less attention as a therapy than it deserves. Despite conclusive evidence supporting strength training for managing conditions including diabetes, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, depression, osteoporosis, and balance issues, very few older adults seize the opportunity to benefit from this therapy.

Much of this is due to misconceptions surrounding strength training.

Some common myths are:

Strength training requires the use of dumbbells, machines and other contraptions only available in a gymnasium.

There are cost-effective tools and resources available today to enable an individual to perform a strength workout in the comfort of their home. Over 80 strength training exercises can be performed with an exercise band or exercise tube. Additionally, two-litre water bottles filled at various levels with water and/or sand can provide various resistances and replace expensive dumbbells. Many strength training exercises can be performed using the individual's own bodyweight - for example, chair-squats or modified push-ups.

- Older adults are incapable of performing high-intensity strength training.

The image that arises in many minds at the mere mention of high intensity is that of a weight-lifter with an _expression of severe constipation. Intensity is measured relative to each individual's capabilities - not by athletic standards. Each individual is capable of high-intensity strength training because it is simply their near-maximal effort that can be performed for a designated number of repetitions.

- High intensity strength training is inappropriate for older adults.

Research shows it is quite safe for an older adult to perform strength training to their near-maximum capacity, as long as they have embarked on a gradual increase in intensity as part of their program. Moreover, it has been shown that high-intensity strength training produces greater benefits for conditions such as diabetes, depression and osteoporosis as compared to moderate-intensity training. The program should be tailored to the individual's needs by an accredited exercise physiologist following a physical assessment to identify issues warranting further investigation.

- Strength training requires significant adjustments to one's routine.

The benefits of strength training have been observed with as little as 20 minutes two to three times per week. There are many opportunities to accommodate exercise throughout the day without disrupting one's routine.

There is growing evidence that exercise, and in particular strength training, should be provided as a first-line therapy for depression and a variety of age-related conditions. In the coming years, medical practitioners may find themselves prescribing exercise and healthy-eating habits as frequently as drugs.

Chris Tzar is an exercise physiologist and director of the Lifestyle Clinic, Faculty of Medicine, University of NSW

Alan Says:

Thanks to user "Dalek" for bringing this to my attention. The point about bodyweight exercises or just using handy stuff around the house such as plastic bottles of water in order to get started is a good one. For once you indulge a little and feel the general benefits (as well as the aches and soreness at first..!) it's much easier to "get into it".

I don't normally recommend bodybuilding books other than my own but for a book that really specialises in the topic of bodybuilding and fitness at "more than young" ages and which has pretty good reviews click here

Even today I sometimes miss a workout because the very notion seems a burden and chore - but while I'm doing it and perhaps most importantly afterwards, the glow of satisfaction can't be beat. Not to mention of course, the health benefits described above! So come on, do it!

Bodybuilding is something anyone can do, over 50 or over 60 or over...
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