Doctors and physical therapists have known for a long time that weight-bearing exercises like walking and strength-training help our bones stay strong as we age—and that can help prevent falls and fractures. Now, a Penn State Health doctor who developed a strength-training program for seniors has found that “people as old as age 80 have increased their muscle strength by 100% following a year of regular strength training.” Here’s how you or your parents can start pumping iron (or at least stretching elastic bands) to keep you safely upright and active.
How the Band Together program builds senior fitness
Although the Penn State Health Band Together program only has six exercises, some participants have doubled their strength. That’s in part because the exercises were chosen to work major muscle groups and to support activities of daily living:
- Shoulder presses help you build the strength to safely do things like lift boxes over your head and push them onto a shelf.
- Arm curls give you the strength to carry things without dropping them or hurting your back.
- Pulls or rows help build arm and upper body strength for pulling and moving household items.
- Chest presses help you push away from things without straining.
- Calf raises help you stand on tiptoe while maintaining your balance.
- Chair stands build core and leg muscles for stair-climbing and walking safely.
You can watch a video for each of the six Band Together exercises in which Dr. Sciamanna demonstrates the move and explains how to do it with proper form.
Why doctors emphasize strength for independent living
Balance is important to prevent falls, and so is strength, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, stronger muscles help us stay upright in the first place. For another, strength training can help us maintain bone density as we age. That can reduce the risk of a bone break that causes a fall – a typical scenario for a hip fracture, which can signal the end of independent living for many sufferers.
How to learn more or start a Band Together senior exercise program
Churches and community groups that want to learn more about starting a Band Together program can fill out the contact form on the Band Together website. If your group is in the Hershey, PA, area, there are several local Band Together groups that welcome visitors for a free observation session where you can learn more. You can also watch a 9-minute video of one of the senior workout sessions here.
Other strength training options for seniors
If Band Together isn’t an option for your group, or if you don’t have a group to exercise with, there are still plenty of strength training resources you can use. You can start with some light hand weights, resistance bands, and this senior strength-training exercise sheet from the National Institutes of Health. If you’re really into the details, you can download this 126-page free guide from the Centers for Disease Control: Growing Stronger – Strength Training for Older Adults. For minimalists and easy strength training on the road, there are senior-approved exercises that build muscle without requiring any special equipment.