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Exercises to improve impaired endurance, joint dysfunction, and impaired mobility are a mainstay of physical therapy practice for older adults. Common modes of exercise include aerobic, strengthening, and balance/flexibility programs. In the past 20+ years, researchers have learned more about the benefits of strengthening as a major role player in maintaining a well-balanced lifestyle. Muscle weakness, termed sarcopenia and dynapenia, is a normal age-related phenomenon, occurring to everyone regardless of ethnic background or financial status. The rate of strength decline is dependent on age and physical activity; however a rate of 1-5% decline annually is the average after the age of 30.
Those who are physically inactive lose muscle mass and strength more quickly than active individuals who participate in strength training. After a certain age, power decreases even more rapidly annually, affecting the ability to move and react quickly. Diminished power and strength affect function and can be a leading cause of nursing home admission and falls, further forcing sedentary habits. The vicious cycle of inactivity and diminished power and strength in turn promote further weakness and loss of power causing further functional disability. Critical to keeping older adults independent in the community and avoiding nursing home placement is breaking this cycle of decreased muscle mass/strength/power, inactivity, and functional decline. Therefore, effective strengthening practices must be employed by physical therapy/strength training personnel to maintain the highest level of function and achieve optimal aging.
Dimitri Cosmios, PT, DPT, CSCS