Healthy Older Adults - How to Train

Achieve and Stay Fit as an Older Adult

Senior doing weights
Training for Healthy Adults. (c) Getty Images

Muscle Maintenance

Even if you exercise and train with weights, an age-related decline in hormones like testosterone will cause you to lose muscle mass compared to when you were in your twenties.

The term 'sarcopenia' is used to describe low muscle mass and reduced muscle function. It may also refer to non-specific weakness and disability, and diminished autonomy among older adults. It's not difficult to imagine how strength and mobility enhance independence in senior years.

Maintaining muscle (and bone) bulk and strength is one key to self-reliance and independence as we age. A prudent diet is also likely to play a role in preventing deterioration or sarcopenia.

Technically, sarcopenia is characterized by a decrease in the size of the muscle, which may correspond with an increase in fat and an increase in fibrosis (scar tissue) in muscle fibers. Resistance training has proven results for maintaining muscle mass and strength in aging adults.

Joint Health

Having good strength and muscle is of limited advantage if you don't have the joint function to take advantage of those characteristics. Osteoarthritis in knee, shoulder, wrist, elbow, neck and back can inhibit movement and function. Contrary to some opinion, people who exercise into senior years do not suffer more joint problems than sedentary individuals.

This article, one in a series, takes a look at the position stand of the American College of Sports Medicine titled Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults, 2009.

This is a summary of the evidence from a well-qualified group of experts for the effectiveness of various procedures and practices in resistance and weight training programs.


In similar context, inadequate flexibility can limit movement performance even if muscle and joint health are adequate.

Flexibility training is increasingly shifting from static flexibility exercises to dynamic programs in which full ranges of motion are encouraged through various regular exercise sessions. Bootcamp type programs where full-body, dynamic movement is often mandated are good examples of dynamic flexibility training in action.

ACSM Position Stand on Older Healthy Adults

This following summarizes American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for training characteristics focusing on training for hypertrophy or muscle building, with companion articles available for strengthpower, and strength endurance.

Progressive Resistance Training for Older Healthy Adults

"Weight and resistance training for healthy older adults is a function of carefully considered progressive resistance training. Beyond that, caution should be observed with in those with hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or any other debilitating condition that limits physical function."

"For improvements in strength and hypertrophy in older adults, the use of free-weight and machine multiple- and single-joint exercises with slow to moderate lifting velocity for 1 to 3 sets per exercise with 60-80% of 1 RM for 8-12 repetitions with 1-3 min of rest in between sets for 2-3 d is recommended."

"Increasing power in healthy older adults include 1) training to improve muscular strength and 2) the performance of both single- and multiple-joint exercises for one to 3 sets per exercise using light to moderate loading (30-60% of 1 RM) for 6-10 repetitions with high repetition velocity."

In summary, you can see that resistance training is an important physical activity for older adults. Walking, cycling and aerobic training of any type complements resistance training, and together they form a powerful anti-aging recommendation for seniors.

For a review of weight and resistance training fundamentals, you can read the beginner documentation.


Nicholas Ratamess, Brent Alvar, Tammy K. et al. Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy AdultsMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2009, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 687-708.

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