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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)
Older adults who include both physical activity and exercise in their daily routine will reap many health benefits.
Fitness goals can vary: some seniors are avid runners, focused on the next marathon, while others exercise to reduce disease risk or maintain the ability to perform activities of daily living. Many aging adults are seeking to prolong their "golden years" and preserve their physical abilities in order to enjoy retirement, travel or play with their grandchildren.
Consequently, many of these individuals will embark on an exercise routine that is aimed towards gaining or maintaining the strength, endurance, bone density, balance and flexibility that is necessary to continue physical activity. It is critical that aging adults recognize the importance of resistance training and understand how to select the most appropriate resistance exercises to achieve their goals.
The first step is selecting the type of resistance — either machine or free weights. Many older adults migrate to a local gym for machine resistance exercises, and this method does provide many benefits. Machines often require little professional instruction and provide greater stability by controlling the path of the resistance.
This makes machines less intimidating, easier and safer to learn on for novice individuals or those with low initial strength levels. They are also time-efficient, as many do not require a spotter or the loading and unloading of weights.
Finally, machines allow individuals to perform exercises that they otherwise may not be able to perform. For instance, many older adults cannot perform a chin-up, but can adjust the resistance on a pull down machine to accomplish the same overhead pulling movement pattern at a reduced intensity.
While machines do provide the aforementioned benefits and do have a place in an individual's resistance training routine, machines typically isolate a specific muscle group and a single joint. Therefore, machines should serve as a starting point for individuals with limited resistance training experience with the intent to progress toward more free weight exercises.
When it comes to performing activities of daily living, such as climbing stairs, picking up a box off of the ground or carrying groceries, individuals are typically required to utilize multiple muscles and joints in a coordinated movement pattern. The majority of physical activities do not happen in the controlled, guided movement path of machines. Rather, exercises performed with free weights more closely mimic the challenges that are presented in everyday movement.
Research has demonstrated that this "free-form" seen in activities of daily living can be enhanced to a greater degree by using free weights (i.e., barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, etc.) for resistance exercises as they require the lifter to control all aspects of the exercise. Free weight resistance training also allows the individual to perform a wider variety of exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups and multiple joints.
Plus, you don't have to have a gym membership to use free weights. All you need are the weights and some floor space. As with any new exercise routine, it is suggested that the individual consult a physician prior to beginning, but if given the opportunity, pick up a free weight and go to work!
Josh Wildeman is an instructor in the Kinesiology and Sport Department at the University of Southern Indiana's Pott College of Science, Engineering & Education. He can be contacted at [email protected] This column is provided through a collaboration between SWIRCA & More and USI. For more information, visit swirca.org or call 812-464-7800.
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