It is important for older adults to keep their bodies strong so that they can do everyday activities such as getting out of a chair, walking up and down stairs, or pushing the shopping trolley. Doing physical activity will help to keep muscles and bones strong and to stay healthy and independent. The leg, hip, and trunk muscles are the primary muscles for helping people to stay upright and therefore are key muscles in keeping strong and helping to reduce the risk of having a fall.
Due to ageing, the size and amount of muscle maintained declines. This can result in decreases in strength and power (particularly in the lower limbs and trunk), increased frailty, changes to gait, and lower bone mineral density, all of which lead to a decreased ability to complete activities of daily living and increase the risk of a fall.
Despite a reduction in strength in older age, strength training can increase muscle mass and functional capacity even in adults aged 80 years and older. Strength training, or resistance training, causes muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight.
How can I assist older adults to strengthen their legs?
Exercise programs aimed at increasing the muscle strength of older adults should involve moderate-intensity resistance training. As good balance is also important for preventing falls, balance exercises should always be included in strength exercise programs. Endurance exercises such as walking and aerobics are effective for improving general fitness; however, these exercises are always recommended in conjunction with strength and balance exercises to reduce the risk of falling.
Regular physical activity and exercise can also help to maintain bone density in older adults. Protecting bone density can reduce falls risk and reduce the likelihood of fracturing a bone if a fall does occur. Bones can become stronger when an impact or extra strain is placed on them.
Exercises that are excellent for improving bone strength in older adults include:
- Weight-bearing exercises (exercise performed on the feet) such as walking, jogging, tennis, dancing and aerobics
- Progressive resistance training (training which becomes more challenging over time) such as lifting weights or using gym equipment
The Stay On Your Feet® Strengthen Your Legs Exercise Flyer and the Strengthen Your Legs with Julie animation, includes basic leg strengthening exercises that older adults can do in their own home. Additionally, access our eDirectory to find a local exercise class for your client.