Older people are often portrayed as frail, slow-moving, and plagued by aches and pains – but is this correct? Does turning 60 or drawing your pension turn you into an invalid overnight? No! Of course it doesn’t! Not only are these misconceptions wrong, they encourage people to accept sharply declining activity levels as a natural part of aging.
In this guide, we’re going to explain why exercising is even more important as your birthdays rack up and advise on the best exercise machines for mature bodies.
Do you lose muscle as you get older?
Yes. It’s called Sarcopenia and much of it is preventable
Sarcopenia is the medical term for the age-related decline in muscle mass we all experience as we get older. This process begins much sooner than most people realise. Those who lead a sedentary lifestyle can lose up to 5% of their muscle each year from around the age of 30, unless they use exercise machines, or some other form of training.
Over time, this decline can cause fatigue, a loss of strength, a slower metabolism, a change in body shape, difficulties with balance, loss of mobility, and fragility that increases the risk of fractures and injuries. Sadly, few senior adults achieve the required level of physical activity they’d need to stay healthy.
How do you prevent sarcopenia?
While some degree of sarcopenia is part of the natural aging process, much of it is preventable. Physical activity is, without a doubt, the best way to protect yourself. Not only will the body work to protect muscles that are in use but building muscle mass gives you more ‘surplus’ muscle.
How to start building muscle at 60
Let’s get the hard truth out of the way first: building muscle mass at 60 takes longer than it does at 40, and longer still than it does at 20. On the other hand, if you’ve retired and have no young children in the house, you probably have more time to fit in regular training sessions than you did at those ages.
Resistance band training for seniors is a fantastic way to get and stay in shape
Beginning training can be daunting and you might be worried about injuring yourself. A great place to start is by using resistance bands. These rubber bands are great for gently stretching and strengthening your muscles. They can be used with online instructional videos (search on YouTube) and, because the bands typically come in sets, you can increase the resistance to suit your body’s growing power.
If you’re not sure what exercise machine to buy, grab a set of these bands until you decide on one. They’re affordable, easy to use, and can work alongside whatever training machine you get for your home workout.
Building muscle & beginning weight training for seniors
Resistance bands are a good start and a way to build up confidence, but to really make headway with muscle mass you need to use weight machines and dumbbells. Which machines are suited for an older person? All of them! Remember:
Fitness equipment doesn’t carry an age limit
The only thing that might make using certain machines more difficult is an injury or health condition (e.g. arthritis); in which case, listen to your body and don’t push through the pain. Instead, build up strength in the affected area with gentler exercises and try to increase the intensity over time.
Studies have shown that progressive weight training (gradually increasing the amount of weight you lift over time) is good for seniors.
Are free weights good for seniors?
A good starting point for your upper body is to use free weights (dumbbells and barbells) and cable weights. Cable weight machines are the ones that have a bar attached to a cable with the ability to add weights, typically you pull the bar towards you while standing or pull the bar down while seated.
For the lower body, combine free weights with exercises like squats and lunges. Leg press machines allow you to push weights up while seated. It’s normal to experience aches and pains after using this type of equipment. Older bodies are less efficient at healing, so these may take longer to clear up than they would have when you were younger. This isn’t a sign that you should stop exercising, try to stick to your routine.
Why is it important for older adults to exercise?
There’s many reasons to stay in shape as we age. For starters, there are many diseases that you can help protect yourself against with regular use of training equipment and a healthy exercise program.
According to the NHS website:
people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia.
Some other benefits to staying in shape as you age are:
- More energy
- Increased strength for everyday activities and family
- Reduce body fat and look better!
- Improvements to balance & posture
- Increased mobility
How much should senior adults exercise?
As well as looking at what kinds of exercise machines, gym gear and training older adults should do, we’d better touch on how much of it we should be doing.
The best source of this is the WHO, who have specific guidelines for the amount of exercise adults 65 or older should undertake.
- At least 150 min of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination.
- Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 min duration.
- For additional health benefits, undertake up to 300 min of moderate-intensity or 150 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination.
General exercise tips for seniors
In addition to weightlifting, and using various exercise machines to improve your fitness as you get older, there’s plenty of other proven ways to and maintain muscle mass. It’s as they say, if you don’t use it you’ll lose it!
You’re never too old to start running
Going for a jog is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Check out our guide: Am I Too Old To Start Running At 60?
Swimming is a good exercise for seniors
Swimming is one of the best ways of working out the entire body and is particularly suited to people who suffer from arthritis and other joint conditions because the water supports your body weight, allowing you to move more freely.
Indoor or outdoor cycling is perfect for older people
Cycling is another brilliant exercise, especially for those who have bad knees. Again, pressure on the joints is reduced because your bodyweight is kept off your knees, allowing them to move and build strength without that extra stress. You’ll definitely want to look into recumbent bikes too, as this reclined cycling lends itself well to anyone with problems with either back or knees.
What age should you stop exercising?
Quick answer: never stop training and working out, if you want to keep yourself fit and healthy. Check out some of the oldest body builders on the planet for some inspiration. While you might not want to go to that length, it shows age doesn’t mean you can’t achieve incredible things with your training.
Age is no barrier to being active and getting older doesn’t mean you have to accept a reduction in mobility. Health conditions can unfortunately make certain movements more difficult and even painful, but there are ways to work around this.
Exercise: not just for young people!
The narrative around young people exercising is one of aesthetics and hitting impressive targets, like bench pressing a certain number or completing a marathon. For older people, it’s sometimes assumed that they aren’t interested in these things or that they’re not capable of achieving them (wrong!).
The sheer range of exercise machines available mean everyone can find a way that suits their lifestyle and improve their health and fitness.
What’s missing is that exercise becomes crucial for quality of life as you get older because your body will naturally lose muscle mass. Your golden years will only be golden if you can enjoy good health, so take positive steps to protect your muscles by regularly engaging in some form of exercise.
References and further reading
- NCBI – The Intensity and Effects of Strength Training in the Elderly
- NHS – Exercise as you get older
- BMJ – Physical activity is medicine for older adults
- World Health Organization – Global recommendations on physical activity for health