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Frailty

David Crocker

Diet and Exercise

As I was growing up, I competed in athletics at a very young age. Through the years as I became heavily involved in sports, I worked out a lot. Naturally when I first became a personal trainer, I worked with quite a few athletes, many of whom were showcase athletes.

One day many years ago, something happened that really opened my eyes. An elderly lady I had been training for a while, came into my studio with this huge grin on her face. I asked, “what are you so happy about”? She began explaining to me that, for the first time in years, she had the strength to place a stack of dishes up on the top of her kitchen shelves. You could have knocked me over with a feather!!!

At that time, it never even occurred to me that someone would have trouble putting plates on a shelf. I began to analyze her situation. Here was a lady, not terribly athletic, maybe not even in her younger years, and didn’t start weight training until in her 80s. The impact of strength training was making such a difference in her everyday life. She now had the strength and stamina to do things around the house she had trouble with before.

Over the years I’ve seen how seniors have amazingly responded to weight training, but what is even more impressive, is that many never lifted a weight before in their life. I even had one client begin at age 90.

As folks age, many experience a common geriatric syndrome called “frailty”. This condition is characterized by sarcopenia (a degenerative loss of muscle mass), osteoporosis (a condition where bone mineral density is reduced), muscle weakness, muscle fatigue and slower healing. Muscle strength plays a pivotal role in one’s functional independence, with low muscle strength being associated with many “frailty” symptoms.

You don’t have to take frailty lying down though! The great news is the effects of frailty can be reversed.

Research has shown the best approach is to begin a combination of:

  • Weight training

This type of exercise involves gradually increasing the workload of muscles by adding weights, then performing more repetitions and sets. Proper weight training increases lower body (leg) strength as well as knee and hip flexion. Hip flexors are several muscles that surround the ball and socket joints that connect the legs to the upper body. These muscles allow you to move your legs upward toward your torso and advance your torso forward at the hip.

Hip flexor muscles are very important for core stability and gait. Strengthening the lower body is required for improving mobility, flexibility and walking speed. I recommend individuals strengthen all skeletal muscle groups. Increased upper body strength helps folks maintain their mobility and independence. This can improve function in older adults, and reverse muscle loss associated with aging.

  • Aerobic training

Aerobic training is great for everyone, especially seniors. I suggest all exercisers begin at a lower intensity level, then as you become more conditioned, slowly increase your pace. The goal should be to eventually raise your heart rate to 70% to 80% of your maximum. While maximum heart rate is better, even moderate aerobic training has shown to improve the amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise, otherwise known as VO2 max.

  • Balance training

Balance training involves working muscles that help you maintain an upright position. More specifically, muscles that keep you vertical while your body weight shifts side to side. These muscles include the glutes, hamstrings, abs, lower back, obliques and hip flexors. Balance exercise can improve your balance and strength, making your feel more confident on your feet. Always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.

Proper exercise brings numerous benefits to older adults, both physically, and psychologically, but seniors should only seek advice from trainers experienced in knowing their progression and their limitations.

Diet or exercise question? Contact David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com.