The answer: Hells Yeah! Now am I saying you have to turn grandma into the next Arnold Schwarzenegger or crossfit games athlete? No, but one of the hardest parts about getting older is the fear of losing your independence and it is hard on families seeing parents and grandparents getting older and frustrated they can’t do things they used to do with no problem. From personal experience, I have seen my grandma go to clean the bath tub like she has done many times, but then be unable to get back up and have to call for help. The other fear is the increased risk of falls and the risk of fractures that comes with falls. Strength training helps to improve function which will help maintain independence, as well as improve bone strength and balance.
We should all be able to do simple movements such as a squat, hip hinge, push, and pull. We squat to sit down or use the restroom, we use hip hinge whenever we bend over like brushing your teeth or picking up a laundry basket, a push is anything away from your body like vacuuming, and a pull is bringing anything towards you such as opening the door or pulling a chair out to sit down. These are all simple movements we do every day and take for granted until we can no longer do them anymore.
The reason strength training is beneficial at increasing bone strength is its ability to create enough stress on the bones to stimulate increased bone density. Studies have found the areas with the most bone density change due to strength training are the lumbar spine and the hip. The hip is especially concerning due to the fact roughly 800 Americans a day break a hip, usually because of a fall. Improving balance is vital in preventing falls. Strength training and movement stress our nervous system to drive more information to the brain, so it can help determine where we are in space. Our bodies crave movement, it’s how we nourish them and send information to the brain.
The key to strength training is to do exercises that will help you to perform your activities of daily living. The training has to match the individual’s needs, the more you train the movement pattern the easier it becomes. The brain is essentially a computer that hits save on the movement and the body becomes more efficient at activating the proper muscles.
While it may seem crazy to have your grandma doing squats or deadlifts, they are basic movements we do throughout the day, and by training them it can help them to keep their independence. Strength training will help you to be able to get down and clean the bath tub without needing help to get up, go to the restroom without having to be helped getting up and down, or be able to get on the ground to play with your grand kids or pick them up. The goal of strength training is not to break lifting records, but to improve the quality of life.
Don’t wait to start training especially for women. Peak bone mass is achieved by mid-20s for both men and women, but women lose up to 20% of bone mass following menopause. After the age of 80, 1 out of every 3 women will sustain a hip fracture compared to 1 out of every 9 men. Therefore, it is important for women to start young so they can develop proper peak bone density and continue strength training to help slow the loss of bone density.
- My Mother’s Hip: Lessons from the World of Eldercare provides a useful FACT SHEET about Hip Fractures by Luisa Margolies
Mosti, Mats P., et al. “Maximal Strength Training Improves Bone Mineral Density and Neuromuscular Performance in Young Adult Women.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 28, no. 10, 2014, pp. 2935–2945.
Cover Photo- Shirley Webb courtesy ESPN