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The term elderly doesn’t have a precise clinical definition, though it is often used in medical articles. Elderly has been used for older than 65 to older than 75, and some of us in the ST community are indeed getting older over time.

Possibly coming into the definition of elderly at the age of 73, I do have an interest in exercises for older people. I also teach an ST class where the ages generally go from mid 60s to late 70s (though the oldest one has done yoga all her life and has enviable fitness and flexibility). Because it is a class of mixed fitness and abilities (some of whom are carrying injuries and after-effects of e.g. cancer) what we do is necessarily limited, though there is plenty of encouragement for those wanting to do more advanced versions. As well as flexibility, the focus is on core strength, balance and body awareness.

One of the features of old age is muscle degeneration and loss of strength, known as sarcopenia. The extent to which this can be prevented or is reversible once it has occurred has been a matter for debate. The current consensus seems to be:

1. The best protection is to have a lot of muscle mass to start with, so you can lose more before becoming doddery. If you are not naturally endowed with a lot, the best thing is to build it up while young, when putting on muscle mass is relatively easy, and then exercise to keep it.
2. The next best thing is to start strength training at any age, even though it will not be as effective as when young. Positive effects have been reported even in the old-old (late 90s) (though that may be from a very low baseline). The strength training has to be for hypertrophy (80% 1 RM, or 5 reps to failure).

It’s not appropriate to do this in my group class, and I’m starting a program on my own. Hating weights (I’m the skinny flexible type) I don’t want to go to the gym, and don’t have a spotter to learn styles like Olympic weightlifting, and want to use body-weight resistance exercises where possible. Given that the intention is that the weights will be beyond the maximum that I can handle, it needs to be very safe.

At the moment I am doing:

1. Single-leg squats (I can make it more difficult by going lower).
2. Pull-ups – if I ever get good at these (like I was when young) I can try to move to a single arm version.
3. Push-ups (see no 2 comment).
4. I’ve tried shrugging up when in an elbow stand against the wall, but can do that too easily. I don’t want to do it with bending-to-straight arms (in a handstand) in case I collapse on my head.
5. Pull-ups holding a low barre with body almost horizontal (feet on floor), pulling the chest up to the barre (see no 2 comment).

I don’t know if anyone has any further suggestions, and I would appreciate hearing if anyone does - remember that the muscles need to be maximally loaded and it needs to be very safe. I’d like to be able to exercise all major muscle groups just using body weight alone. Doing free exercises this way means that accessory muscles will be exercised as well, though I guess most wont be loaded heavily enough to combat sarcopenia.

Should there be a special ST flavour for the elderly? The problem here is that there is such a range once people are in their 60s-70s-80s. The fittest will be able to do the same program as a younger person, while others may be limited to exercises like sitting in a chair and rotating their wrists 5x one way and 5x the other.

Comments appreciated.

Thanks, Jim.

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On 12/4/2019 at 4:10 PM, Jim Pickles said:

I don’t know if anyone has any further suggestions, and I would appreciate hearing if anyone does - remember that the muscles need to be maximally loaded and it needs to be very safe. I’d like to be able to exercise all major muscle groups just using body weight alone.

Hi Jim,

This is very possible. This style of training is often referred to as gymnastics strength training (GST), and is also addressed by the Monkey Gym branch of ST. At minimum, you'll want to have a bar, but a pair of gymnastic rings (or perhaps a TRX-type system, although the rings are far superior) will give you far more options. By using leverages and other mechanical disadvantages, you will be able to build extremely high levels of strength using body weight alone. I would note that all resistance training protocols will be potentially dangerous. That is simply part of the package - you can't push your physical limits enough to create adaptation with zero risk.

For example, regarding your list:

1. Glute ham raises to work the posterior of the legs.
2. There is much more than simply moving to one-arm. L-sit pull-ups will shift the center of gravity and increase the difficulty, for example.
3. Same here. Look into pseudo-planche push-ups, for example. Or planche progressions.
4. I doubt you're strong enough for full handstand push-ups. Do them piked and you do not risk much danger falling. You can also do dips on a bar or rings for a vertical push, and these can be progressed to rings-turned-out (RTO) dips with forward lean if using rings.
5. These are called inverted rows, or funnily enough, Australian pull-ups. They can also be progressed in a variety of ways - moving into a tucked position, and opening the tuck out into a front lever, eventually.

These are only a handful of the many available options. The GST world is vast :)

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@Nathan - many thanks for that. I will look into those (as yet I dont understand them all) and see what works for me.

Though today I found some exercises to test function in older people - and pleased to say that I am off the top of the scale for my age group (and for people 10 years younger) in all of them. I want to stay that way.

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  • 11 months later...

More on sarcopenia. I'm getting even older now (74). One generally-used standard monitor for general muscle strength is hand grip strength, and I recently bought a hand-grip dynamometer. I am pleased to say that my grip strength is classed as "strong" for my age group, and indeed would be classed as "strong" even for people 15 years younger than myself (I wont give actual figures out unless pressed, because they are probably very miserable compared with all the tough people who read this forum).

HOWEVER I was interested in this result, because I dont feel myself to be a strong person. I am the lanky unmuscular flexible type, and never do resistance training, which I always intend to do, and never get round to because I hate it. I do some moderate aerobic exercise (1 hour bike riding) most days, as well as several stretching sessions/week. Resistance training is meant to be what is most effective at combatting sarcopenia (the loss of muscle strength with age). But the question arises: is me being classed as "strong" (in muscles I dont particularly exercise much) due to stretching the big muscles elsewhere in the body? Maybe its why people who do yoga seem to age well (though of course cause and effect may be the other way round - only people who are ageing well can do yoga when older).

Though that interaction has not been tested directly as far as I can see, stretching is known to increase the production of the growth factor IGF-1*, and declines in IGF-1 are one of the factors behind sarcopenia. So there is a possibility that what I like doing, stretching, can help reduce the loss of my strength with age. I'll keep doing it, though it would be better if I did more rounded exercise. And there is a more general possibility that stretching some muscles can increase muscular strength in other areas of the body.

(*There are in fact dozens of factors involved, and they are still being discovered and they probably have complicated interactions, but IGF-1 is one of the major ones.)

By the way, in the medical literature someone like me is referred to as the "community-dwelling elderly" - i.e. not shut away yet! And if you're all feeling superior, one day (all being well) you'll be here too one day!

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