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Strength Training for Older Adults
Improve Your Health

Seniors of all ages and physical situations can benefit from regular strength training. Fran, 69, of Charlotte, NC, literally stumbled into the benefits of strength training. Years ago, she tripped over a bedspread and twisted her knee badly enough to need medical attention. During rehab, she was given a set of weight-based exercises to help strengthen her leg muscles and speed her recovery. Fran had always been active, but she noticed an improvement after following the new regimen.

As Fran experienced, strength training can boost your health in many ways. Some examples include:

  • Improving the symptoms of a range of conditions, like osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, back pain, and depression
  • Increasing your flexibility
  • Making your bones stronger
  • Helping you to maintain a healthy weight
  • Improving your sleep
  • Keeping your heart healthy
  • Improving your mood
Focus on Your Muscles

A strength-training routine should include the major muscles in your body. These muscles are found in your arms, legs, chest, back, and abdomen. You may think that your daily activities are enough to work these muscle groups, but a strength-training routine is designed to target certain muscles and push them to become stronger. Here are some examples of exercises to build-up certain muscles:

Getting Started

Take the following steps before beginning a strength training program:

  • Consult with your doctor—You need to make certain you are medically stable before beginning any kind of physical activity program.
  • Get good information—Talk with your doctor, read reputable books, and visit reliable websites. Seek out exercises that are appropriate for your age and physical condition. Remember that workouts that fit naturally with your lifestyle are more likely to become permanent.
  • Get the proper equipment or join a health club—Try dumbbells and ankle weights and even using your own body weight. For example, doing squats can help improve body alignment and an overall sense of balance.

When you are ready to exercise, keep these basic principles in mind:

  • Aim to do your strength-training exercises at least two days a week.
  • Lift as heavy a weight as you can while maintaining proper form.
    • Note: You will need to begin with a very light weight and slowly progress to more weight.
  • Work up to doing two sets of 10-15 repetitions.
  • Exercise slowly and use a full range of motion.
  • Work on paired muscle groups to get the most benefit. For example, if you are exercising your biceps, also include exercises that will strengthen your triceps.


American Council on Exercise

National Institute on Aging


Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology

Healthy Canadians


20 frequently asked questions. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: Updated September 30, 2013. Accessed February 19, 2014.

Chapter 5: active older adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated October 16, 2008. Accessed February 19, 2014.

Sample exercises: strength. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: Updated September 30, 2013. Accessed February 19, 2014.

Why strength training? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated February 24, 2011. Accessed February 19, 2014.

Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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