The New Face of Strength: Why Strength Training is Pivotal to Active Aging

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 By Frank Arant

When we think of strength training, we often visualize young healthy fitness fanatics who frequent gyms for several hours each day. As Americans continue to live longer, it’s time to shift the focus to the community who may benefit the most from this form of exercise, those over 55. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, less than 60% of older adults engage in physical activity and strength training. Given the benefits strength training affords, including its ability to help prevent chronic illness, there is no better time than now to change the traditional view of resistance training.

Older adults have been encouraged to take steps to manage their health for some time now, however, the global pandemic has created a new class of ‘health seekers’ who are particularly cognizant of their overall well-being. Researchers and health practitioners have come to understand the link between physical activity and the immune system, yet only recently is strength training being highlighted as a key player in the exercise routine. It releases what’s called ‘myokines’, hormone-like messenger substances that protect and rejuvenate the immune system. Despite these benefits, fewer than 15% of people over 60 years of age achieve the twice weekly recommendation for this form of exercise. So, what’s stopping older adults from engaging in in this form of exercise?

As the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated so has the rise of digital fitness, smart training in particular can be crucial in remedying these concerns. Smart equipment not only offers a personalized workout experience but provides an optimized health and wellbeing roadmap, allowing older adults to workout smarter not harder. The right smart equipment should be able to deliver a personalized fitness prescription that enables them to meet their goals while reducing the chance of injury. Especially considering the importance of social distancing for this demographic, digital solutions, like smart machines, allows them to workout with minimum face-to-face interaction; reducing their contact with trainers, staff and other gym goers.

Unfortunately, some strength machines on the market come up short in efficiently providing older adults a pathway to strengthen the lower body and core which is essential for the reduction of falls and improving mobility, gait and balance. This is why it’s crucial to be cognizant of which types of smart machines are utilized, particularly for those over 55. The best are those that self-adjust to every user biomechanically with the right prescriptive load, which is typically based on each user’s initial strength test and subsequent progressions. This allows the technology to do all of the grunt work, while enabling the users to get the exactly the right dose, frequency and duration they need to become stronger. This is particularly useful to older adults who may have unique health issues or challenges that would otherwise impede on a successful workout.

We are seeing some older adult communities tap into these types of offerings to provide their residents with a unique feature that ultimately aims to improve their quality of life. For example,  Kolter Homes is integrating smart fitness technology into their Cresswind  communities’ fitness centers in notable retirement states like Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. We believe we’ll continue to see active aging communities and traditional gyms alike digitize with this type of equipment as we continue to recognize the benefits, they bring to this age group. 

As we look ahead to 2021, I believe this is a crucial time to consider how newer fitness technology, like smart equipment, can address the growing health concerns, particularly for older adults. Part of the ‘new normal’ can and should be changing the face of what strength trainers look like, the 55+ community should play a major part in this conversation and trainers/gym owners should be particularly focused on resistance programs tailored for this age group. Smart equipment and digital fitness solutions are just one way we can make this process easier. 

Frank Arant is Director of Active Aging at EGYM.

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