Seniors stay strong to live long

Seniors stay strong to live long

Fitness Matters

Jay and Heidi Bryan

Expert answers to your health and wellness questions

Question: My dad is 70 years old and in pretty good health but I want to help him stay that way so he can continue to enjoy his life as much and for as long as possible. What's the best exercise for seniors?

Answer: This is my favorite question ever as a former research assistant in the area of fitness and aging! Fortunately we usually don't have to pick one particular type of exercise for seniors. The best program is a well-rounded combination of cardio (walking, cycling, elliptical cross training, swimming, hiking, etc.) and resistance training (weight lifting, strength training, etc.) along with some flexibility exercise.

But if I had to pick just one, I would pick regular resistance training. I say that because a 70-year-old body is generally experiencing a noticeable loss of muscle mass and accompanying strength that can dramatically affect quality of life and function. In fact, the average 70-year-old has lost more than 15 pounds of muscle since the age of 30. Bones, ligaments and joints are only as strong and stable as the muscles that act upon them - weak muscles result in increased wear and tear on joints.

Balance also is affected negatively by a lack of muscle strength. Therefore, the aging body is in great need of exercise that specifically improves muscle strength and function. The good news is that as little as 20-30 minutes, performed three times per week with the right type and amount of resistance training can improve muscle strength, add muscle mass and dramatically improve the aging body's ability to move, work and play. (Jay)

Question: A friend of mine has been following a gluten-free diet and is losing weight and feeling more energetic than she has in awhile. That said, she is not gluten intolerant and doesn't have celiac disease. I am thinking about trying the diet. Is it recommended for weight loss and general health?

Answer: It's hard to argue with success so I would not want to discourage your friend. However, this diet is not intended for presumably healthy individuals and there isn't any research to indicate that it helps with anything other than gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

There are many so-called "experts" out there that attribute the inability to lose weight or a lack of energy to any number of dietary factors, including gluten. Unfortunately, they can't point to any studies indicating that gluten is the problem, and if that's the case, a lack of gluten is unlikely to be the solution.

Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test and an intestinal biopsy, and gluten intolerance is typically diagnosed if gastrointestinal symptoms persist in the absence of a clinical diagnosis. Because of the specific diet, your friend has become more aware of what she eats and is likely experiencing weight loss as the result of this new awareness and the accompanying improvement in her overall food choices in terms of quality and quantity consumed. If your friend wants to continue the diet and continues to feel good while doing so, I say more power to her! I would not necessarily encourage you to try it. (Heidi)

Question: I heard that adding wrist and ankle weights while walking will increase my calories burned. Sound like a good idea?

Answer: I would discourage it. Adding these types of weights can increase the calories burned during your exercise session but only to a modest degree. In addition, they can throw off the biomechanics of your stride and potentially cause injuries to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles and back.

You can get a more effective workout by simply increasing the intensity and/or duration of your cardiovascular exercise, using intervals or trying an alternative, low-impact mode of cardio like the elliptical cross trainer or bike that will allow you to work harder without pounding your feet and joints. Use the weights for a structured resistance training program that will make your muscle tissue more metabolically active 24-7 and have a greater impact on your daily caloric expenditure in the end. (Heidi)

About the authors: Jay and Heidi Bryan have more than 30 years combined experience and education in the health and fitness industry. They own Anytime Fitness in Sequim. To submit a question for future articles, contact the authors at

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