5 Weight-bearing Exercises for Retirees

couple stretching
Before you work out with any activity, it's important to stretch your muscles.

Whether you're 69- 79- or 89-years-old, you're never too over the hill to begin exercising. Although you may be put off by the term, "weight-bearing exercise" is not designed to bulk up your muscles. Also called "strength training" or "resistance exercise," it's any form of physical activity in which you support your own body (for example, you perform the exercise on your feet) or you lift weight. This type of exercise is beneficial because your muscles are forced to work against gravity. What that does is increase your bone density, your muscle strength and your flexibility, as well as boost your mood and your cognitive function.

That's good because bone mass naturally decreases as we age. In fact, women will typically lose 30 to 50 percent and men 20 to 30 percent of their bone density over a lifetime. The good news is that beginning at around age 35, we can keep brittle bones and osteoporosis at bay with exercise that helps to increase bone density [source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons].


Try these five recommended activities to add weight-bearing exercise to your life. We'll begin by simply taking a walk.

5: Walking

Walking is a great way to start if you're new to exercise or need to keep your activity low-impact. It doesn't require special equipment or a gym membership, and the list of benefits is long: In addition to building strong muscles (or keeping your muscle mass from shrinking) and increasing your bone density, it may help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, improve your total cholesterol level, lower your blood pressure and help you lose weight (especially around your mid-section).

In a study about the walking habits of nurses, researchers found that those who walked for four hours per week reduced their risk of suffering a hip fracture by 41 percent, compared with those who walked less than one hour per week [source: Taylor].


To get the most from your walks, keep your pace brisk and aim for 30 minutes about five days per week. Or track the number of steps you take each day. Buy a pedometer to find out how many steps you average in a day. Thirty minutes of brisk walking should result in about 10,000 steps, which, according to Shape Up America! Should be our daily goal for successful weight management [source: Navratilova, Shape Up America!]]

4: Tai Chi

Here's a statistic you might not know: More than 90 percent of hip fractures occur in women 65 years old or older, most often because of falls [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. One of the best measures you can take to prevent a hip fracture is to ensure your bones are strong and your balance is good.

Tai chi is a slow, meditative mind-body exercise that's linked to improved muscle strength and better overall balance and flexibility -- all helpful for preventing falls, by up to 55 percent [source: Stevens]. Studies have found it may also reduce the amount of bone loss in postmenopausal women already dealing with bone thinning.


Research published in "Physician and Sportsmedicine" found that bone loss in postmenopausal women who practiced tai chi for 45 minutes a day, five days per week, for one year was up to 3 1/2 times slower than that of their peers who did not practice tai chi [source: Douglas]. And that improved bone density can help reduce the risk of injury, such as fractures from falls, by as much as 33 percent [source: Stevens].

3: Yoga

This popular weight-bearing exercise combines breathing, called mindful breathing, and poses, sometimes called postures. About 1.6 million Americans 55 or older practice yoga or other forms of mind-body exercise [source: MSNBC], which is any exercise that relies on precise movements performed with proper breathing, control and concentration [source: The Natural Health Perspective].

Certain yoga poses target specific areas of the body. For example, warrior poses work your chest, hips and feet, while a pose such as upward-facing dog helps strengthen your back, neck and wrists. Additional benefits range from improving strength, balance and flexibility to lowering the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.


Afraid you might not be up to back bends and other pretzel-shaped poses? Fear not. Yoga isn't only about its postures; it's a mind-body activity, which means its benefits range from physical to mental. Choose poses that work for your personal fitness level, or try a chair yoga class in which the mat is replaced with a chair and poses are modified based on how flexible you may or may not be.

2: Racquet Sports

Racquet sports such as tennis, racquetball and squash are not only good cardio workouts but also good weight-bearing exercise. During this type of activity, there is beneficial impact and resistance on your racquet arm (your wrist, arm and shoulder). That's what you need to help boost bone density. Racquet sports will also help increase the strength of your hips and spine, as well as lower your risk of developing chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension [source: Brehm].


1: Resistance Training

older man on circuit machine
You can get a full-body workout when you use circuit training machines. As you train, gradually increase your weights and repetitions.

Resistance training, also known as strength training, not only helps to build your bone density, but also may help build your muscle mass and improve your flexibility and balance. It may also reduce your risk of developing arthritis or back pain or reduce existing symptoms.

A Tufts University study of hip and spine bone density in postmenopausal women found that women who participated in resistance training two days every week for one year gained one percent of bone mass, saw a 75 percent gain in strength and a 13 percent increase in balance [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Aim for 30 minutes of resistance exercise two to three times per week. Remember, start with five minutes at a time if that's all you can manage and gradually build your length of exercise as you become stronger.


Lots More Information

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Growing Stronger -- Strength Training for Older Adults." 2011. (May 23, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/index.html, />http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/index.html
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