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Geriatric weight lifting

Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CGFI


Lifting weights or pumping iron… by any name, does not conjure up an elderly individual.  Generally, when discussing weight lifting or weight training, people will associate this with a younger population, not with someone over 65 years old, much less anyone over 85.

However, to counteract the effects of aging, I can argue that you SHOULD be lifting weights, regardless of age.  Many will forego lifting weights all together, but that would leave many geriatric individuals at a disadvantage.  Here’s why:

  1. Sarcopenia.   We lose muscle as we age.
  2. Osteopenia or Osteoporosis.  Bones become softer as we age.
  3. Type II Diabetes.  Our bodies lose the ability to control the amount of glucose in our blood as we age.
  4. Falls and loss of balance.  The risk of falling increases as we age.
  5. Endurance.  We lose cardiovascular and muscular endurance as we age.

All of the above problems are addressed when you start to train with weights.  Lifting weights will increase your muscle mass, the ability to recruit muscle fibers, increase bone density and strength, increase your endurance, increase your body’s ability to process sugar, and decrease your risk for falling. And even if you do fall, weight training can cause the bones and joints to be stronger, thus reducing fractures.

If moving from point A to point B is difficult now because of pain or fear of pain, weight training can address that.  For the most part, fear of movement, just like fear of falling, can inhibit normal movement and create compensatory movement dysfunctions which perservate the initial problem.

Many of my patients tell me how they “used to be able” to do a certain movement or activity.  I ask them how long has it been since they did this activity and usually they respond with “years” or “months”.

That’s enough time for muscles to atrophy and get tight, bones to soften, and your central nervous system to forget what standing on one leg feels like.  All this can rob you of your independence and mobility.

Without extra loading that weight trainig places on muscles, bones, and joints, they will weaken.

You could argue that lifting too much weight may injure you or make your problems worse.  I hear that all the time.  Most patients are afraid of weights.  They begin to think that lifting something heavy will injure their back or hip or knee.

But if done correctly, applying the correct amount of resistance in the correct direction and body position, weight training is safe and effective.  Adding strength is like rolling back the clock; improving balance, increasing walking pace, and even making stairs less challenging.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more, come in and visit us at Professional Physical Therapy and Training.  Or you can call us at 973-270-7417.  We are located in the Madison and Summit Area YMCAs.  You don’t have to be a member to come see us.



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