Gaining Your Independence With Resistance Training

By Carlos Alberto Rivas, M.S., C.S.C.S. 

            The lifestyle changes of  United States population has led to an increase prevalence of diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and stroke in the aging population.  The elderly today are also more frail and less able to perform activities of daily living, therefore, more vulnerable to losing their independence. This article will address the reasoning for prescribing resistance training for the elderly population.

The Aging Process and Resistance Training

The aging process is associated with a significant reduction in strength, muscular endurance, muscle mass, bone mineral density, and aerobic power.  These changes are largely responsible for the decreased performance of activities of daily living like climbing stairs, sit-to-stand, carrying groceries to and from the car, or simply not being able to take care of oneself.

In comparison with younger adults, the elderly suffer more trips and slips that may result in a fall which often leads to fractures, especially of the hip, thigh, vertebrae, or forearm.  As a result of the fracture, the elderly adult is likely to be forced to endure several weeks or months of bed rest or further periods of inactivity.  During this period, the lack of weigh bearing exercise will result in further loss of bone mineral density, muscle mass, strength, and ability to perform activities of daily living.

Studies that have investigated the relationship of changes in muscle function and performance of activities of daily living have shown that an increase in muscular strength improves activities of daily living proficiency.  For example, significant improvements in the elderly’s walking speed, sit-to-stand speed and postural stability have been reported as a result of resistance training.  More importantly, an increase in upper and lower body strength may increase your ability to become totally independent.

Exercise Guidelines

According to The American College of Sports Medicine, no serious medical complications, heart attacks or other serious injuries, have occurred in the numerous resistance training studies involving frail elderly adults, where medical screening, supervision, and instruction were provided.  General guidelines for intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise follow:


  1. Perform at least 1 set of 8 to 10 exercises that use all major muscle groups.
  2. Each set should involve 10 to 15 repetitions that elicit a perceived exertion rating of somewhat hard.
  3. As a training effect occurs, achieve an overload initially by increasing the number of repetitions, and then by increasing the resistance.
  4. When returning from a lay-off, start with resistances of 50% or less of previous training intensity, and then gradually increase the resistance.


  • Resistance training should be performed at least twice a week, with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions.


  • Sessions lasting longer than 60 minutes may have a detrimental effect on exercise adherence

Bottom Line:

The major goal of a resistance training program is to develop sufficient muscular fitness to enhance an individual’s ability to live a physically independent life.  Resistance training can and will counteract the negative effects of aging.  Resistance training programs that include a combination of machines and free weights for both the upper and lower body should be prescribed for elderly adults, especially those who are identified as having difficulty in performing many activities of daily living.  Remember, it’s never too early or too late to start strength training to counteract the natural effects of aging.

Image from:

Carlos Alberto Rivas, MS, CSCS is the Fitness/ Personal Training Director of the Baptist East/MilestoneWellness Center.  Carlos has a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology and has over 10,000 hours of Personal Training Experience.  Carlos can be reached by phone at 502-896-3900 ext.142.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *