Get fit at any age

Getting fit doesn’t have to mean preparing to run a marathon or scaling a mountain. It’s simply about being more active and building up your core strength to make everyday tasks easier.

Increasingly, Australians of all ages are converting to strength (resistance) training. The science is comprehensive – resistance training provides multiple benefits for improving health, including building muscular strength, reducing muscular pain, enhancing independence and improving bone mass. The great thing about muscles is that they respond to training regardless of age or your baseline strength – so you can start training at any age and keep weigh training throughout your life. Research recommends strength training for all age groups for both general wellbeing and in the prevention and treatment of a plethora of conditions. It has been found valuable in the prevention of osteoporosis, in managing diabetes and arthritis, in controlling blood pressure and glucose metabolism and in the rehabilitation and prevention of back pain. Resistance training is also being used to manage low back pain (LBP). Weakened back muscles are a primary cause of LBP. Research conducted by Dr John Carlson at Victoria University (Melbourne), measured the impact of specific isolated lumbar exercises for patients with chronic LBP. Fifty-five patients, who had been suffering from chronic LBP for 18 months, participated in the study at a Kieser Training clinic. Following twelve 30-minute exercise therapy sessions on a lumbar machine over six weeks, the average increase in lumbar strength was 41 per cent for males and 49 per cent for females while improvement in pain and disability function was 47 per cent and 55 per cent respectively. So, by strengthening the muscles of the back, you can:
• improve your functional ability – your ability to walk, lift items or lower yourself into a chair
• enhance your balance and coordination – thus reduce your risk of falls
• significantly reduce back pain.

Training options
There are several options for people who want to access strength training. The first is to attend a strength training centre or gymnasium, the second is to undertake resistance training classes and the third is to develop a homebased training program, preferably with the help of an exercise physiologist or allied health professional.

For Kevin O’Loughlin, visiting an exercise physiologist gave him information about improving his fitness and strength and provided him with a personalised program, specifically designed to meet his needs.

“I have knowledge about my body that I haven’t gained in 30 years of working with other health professionals,” Kevin says.

“My exercise physiologist helped me recover from a low back problem and, by incorporating strengthening and stretching into my exercise routine, I gained the confidence to get back on track. I now have a greater range of movement and I can do anything I need to do.”

Jan Burne, 55, had a ‘grumbling’ back from the early 1990s. It halted her running and gradually encroached on her lifestyle. “If I did gardening or played golf, it would be very tight and sore,” she reports. “A couple of times it spasmed and I could barely stand up.”

Luckily for Jan, physiotherapist Geoff Mackay was treating her. Mackay was a long-time advocate of core strengthening and was instrumental in bringing a Kieser Training Centre to South Melbourne (see MORE box). He recommended Jan give it a go.

“I noticed the difference within a few weeks – No twinges!” says Jan. “I built up the weights quite quickly.” After 12 months, her back strength had almost doubled.

“It’s a  managed, controlled and focused form of training,” she says. “It’s very well supervised and tailored to every individual. All the machine settings are adjustable to your size and body shape so you’re working exactly what you need to work. I like the precision of it.”

Stephanie Harper oversees the Living Longer Living Stronger (LLLS) program for Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria. This is a strength-training program designed for people over 50 that has more than 10,000 participants in 120 facilities throughout Victoria and which runs in three other states.

“Participants are constantly telling us that strength training allows them to keep doing the things they’ve been doing for longer, like playing with the grandkids or doing the shopping,” says Stephanie. “It allows them to maintain their independence and improves their confidence.”

According to Stephanie, for the cost of a cup of coffee per day, the LLLS program is a low-cost, sustainable activity that can be done in your local community. “People can go on a session-by-session basis, so there’s no need to sign up for a membership for a year,” she notes.

While sticking to a program is often the biggest challenge for most individuals, this is less of an issue for those involved in the LLLS program. “Once people get involved, they get hooked. And if they do miss a session, often their fellow participants follow them up to make sure they are OK. The way it runs tends to create long-term commitment,”
Stephanie confirms.

Not near an LLLS program? Other options are local fitness centres, community health services or programs like Lift for Life that focus on resistance training for individuals with diabetes. Or try a book like the ArthritisHandbook or one of Dr Miriam Nelson’s Strong Women range for inspiration. Whatever your needs, there is sure to be
something to suit you.

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist contact the Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science.
Ph (07) 3856 5622

Kieser Training Centres offer individualised training programs on machines that isolate specific muscles. Centres are supervised by tertiaryqualified staff and can tailor general strength training or rehabilitation programs. Training generally consists of two 30-minute sessions per week. To date, two centres have opened in Melbourne, with plans to open in Canberra next year and then progressively across Australia.
Ph (03) 9696 3599 or (03) 8361 6077

Council on the Ageing Living Longer Living Stronger programs are available in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. South Australia
Ph (08) 8232 0422

Ph (03) 6228 1897
Ph (03) 9654 4443
Western Australia
Ph (08) 9321 2133
For information on the Lift for Life program for diabetes:
Ph 1300 136 588 (Diabetes Australia)

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