When people talk about being physically active, many think of aerobic activities, but it is also about being strong. Getting the heart and lungs working to full capacity has great health benefits. Walking is perhaps the most common form of this type of exercise. When the weather permits, the walkers abound. But as a person ages, fear of falling may prevent him/her from getting out and moving. Strength training can help by increasing the strength of muscles needed to “catch” a person and help them right themselves before actually falling.

The American College of Sports Medicine has set guidelines for older adults for resistance exercise to maximize the benefits. They recommend “performing at least one set of repetitions for 8-10 exercises that train the major muscle groups.” A good starter exercise would be a set of chair squats that strengthen the thighs, buttocks and lower back. It might also mean bicep curls for the upper arms, overhead presses for shoulders, upper back and arms, and bent forward flies for the upper back and shoulders. It could include standing leg curls for the back of the thigh of the moving leg and the front of the thigh of the standing leg, side hip raises for the outside of the moving leg, and knee extensions for the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh. And to wrap it up, try some toe stands to strengthen the calves, ankles and feet. They also recommend that these exercises be done in 10-15 repetitions per set. At least one set should be done 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days.

The resistance for resistance exercises can be created by using hand weights and ankle weights. Increasing the weight increases the resistance and strengthens the muscles. With strong muscles, a person may find that the everyday tasks that have become burdensome with age are not as difficult as in the past. Stay Strong, Stay Healthy classes, offered by University of Missouri Extension, teach older adults to do the exercises mentioned above. A 76-year-old participant in one such class explained that the bag of mulch that was really heavy last year didn’t seem like much at all to lift and carry this year as a result of strength training. An 80-year-old class member said that after doing these exercises even getting up out of a chair was easier!