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Strength Training and Fall Prevention in Older Adults

Falling is the third most common cause of chronic disability worldwide. Falling is negatively correlated with functionality and independence and positively correlated with morbidity and mortality. With the 65-plus age group being the fastest growing age group worldwide, combatting sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle) and preventing falls in older adults has become a paramount public health focus.

To this end, a team of Portuguese researchers recently published a scientific review that examined the impact of resistance training on preventing falls in older adults. Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the authors conclude, “There is clear evidence that strength training with resistance machines seems optimal for inducing muscle development or maintenance and reducing fall rates, fear of falling, and increasing quality of life and independence in the elderly.”

The authors’ guidelines for how the strength training is performed can be summarized in five points:

1. Strength train twice per week.
2. Utilize heavy weights (a departure from the long-held myth that an older adult should use light weights).
3. Focus on lower body exercises (these have a greater impact on fall prevention).
4. Progressively increase the weight (or reps) over time.
5. Lift and lower the weight slowly and with control. As you start to fatigue and are completing your final few repetitions, instead of intentionally lifting the weight slowly, try to lift the weight fast. Keep in mind, that despite your attempt to lift fast, you’ll still be moving the weight slowly because of fatigue.

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