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Strength Training To Prevent Falling

After 60 years of working I suppose my father could afford to buy a coffee shop if he wanted to, but he wonít pay for a cup of coffee. I donít blame him. He also wonít incur the expense nor take the time to stick with a strength training program either. On this point I take issue. I took him to a health club once and showed him a simple strength training routine. I told him to do it once a week; it would only take a half an hour. I told him a year from now he could be significantly stronger or significantly weaker. It was his choice.

A year latter I asked him if he ever when back. As I expected he said no. He was content to walk for his exercise. During that time he had a couple of nasty falls, once breaking a rib and once he banged his head pretty badly. We did not know it at the time, but the consequences of falling were more serious that we thought.

My father became forgetful. It kind of flew under the radar for a while until it could no longer be ignored or denied. He recently underwent a series of tests. We were relieved to know that he does not have the early stages of Alzheimerís or dementia. An MRI revealed that there was damage to his brain. The doctors speculated that it was most likely a result of a fall.

As people age they lose strength and with that gait speed and then a loss of balance. With the loss of strength they lose the ability to recover from a stumble. Falls inevitably occur, and those that do fall who are weak are more likely to suffer injuries as result of that fall.

Falling is the 14th leading cause of death among the elderly.

Each year, more than one-third of Americans over 65 sustain falls, total cost of fall injuries for people 65 and older was .2 billion in 1994, and that is expected to reach .4 billion by 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In one year 735,000 seniors required doctors' care as a result of falling.

As people age they lose as much as half of their fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers control quick movements and responsible for most of our strength. That decline can be reversed with high intensity weight training. There is plenty of documentation out there making the case for strength training for the elderly. One study conducted with 90 year olds:

High-intensity strength training in nonagenarians. Effects on skeletal muscle. Fiatarone MA, Marks EC, Ryan ND, Meredith CN, Lipsitz LA, Evans WJ. Strength gains averaged 174% +/- 31% (mean +/- SEM) in the 9 subjects who completed training. Midthigh muscle area increased 9.0% +/- 4.5%. Mean tandem gait speed improved 48% after training. We conclude that high-resistance weight training leads to significant gains in muscle strength, size, and functional mobility among frail residents of nursing homes up to 96 years of age

Of all the people who stand to gain by strength training the elderly stand to benefit most. It is important not only for the increased quality of life strength can bring but to avoid the consequences of weakness Ė falls, injuries, sickness, and death. These strength increases donít require hours in the gym; do just enough to cause a change, then come back and do it again in a week. With such a program youíll more likely to stick to it. You can look forward to the next year knowing you will be stronger instead of weaker. All it takes a half hour a week. Is it worth it? I am convinced it is.

About the Author: John Kelly is the owner of Ultimate Fitness in New Orleans, LA and Kelly Personal Training in Austin, TX. He has been a personal trainer for 27 years. He specializes in high-intensity circuit strength training designed for safety and maximum impact in minimum time. For more information go to either of Johnís websites or or call John at 512-964-8787.

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