Build Strength – Physical Activity Guidelines 2019

What is getting a lot of press at the moment is the Build Strength part of the guidelines. It's always been there but it is now given greater emphasis as the evidence it helps maintain physical function, reduce the risk of falls, and help people feel more confident can not be overstated.

From the UK Chief Medical Officers Physical Activity Guidelines 2019

" A loss of muscle strength in advancing age is the primary limiting factor for functional independence. Physical function has a linear relationship with mortality, and those with poor physical function have a higher risk of all-cause mortality, even from mid-life. "

We need strength for everyday activities like getting out of a chair unaided, putting shopping away or getting up and down stairs. The bad news about muscle is that after age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade, the good news is that doing strength exercises can stop, halt or reverse this decline. When your muscles are strong you can stay steady and, if you do fall, strong bones are less likely to break. 

Build Strength Chief Medical Officer Physical Activity Guidelines 2019
Build Strength Chief Medical Officer Physical Activity Guidelines 2019

The advice is that older adults should be doing exercises that build strength at least twice a week. Don't worry this doesn't mean you need to buy some weight lifting gloves and hit the gym (of course if you want to then please do, age is not be a limiting factor in attending the gym). You should look for some activities that mean your muscles are being overloaded a little more than usual.

What do I mean by this?

Well can you stand up from the chair using just your leg muscles? If you can then doing that does not overload your muscles as your leg muscles are quite used to pushing your body weight out of the chair, no adaptation is needed. Can you do it twice? Or even three times with very little effort? Fabulous, keep going. When you start feeling it's a little bit of an effort to get out of the chair using just your leg strength (usually I find this is accompanied by a slight change in facial expression) , that is when you start overloading your muscles, when they will start to adapt and get stronger. This goes for any strengthening exercise you do - if you can do it easily, no effort required then it may be maintaining your current ability but it won't be improving it.

Building Strength into your exercise routine may feel a little more daunting than the Be Active. Most people can pull on a pair of shoes and take their first walk, even if they are using their mobility aids or only going 5 minutes down the road that counts and it's a start. If you have never contemplated strength exercises then where do you start?

I am always going to recommend you find someone local to you who can show you what exercises you can do, whether that's at home or in a class, discuss any health conditions you have as that may impact what you can do and also check your technique is correct.

However I do understand that's not always possible due to transport issues, finances etc. In this case I recommend you look for what are called resistance bands. You can buy them in most large supermarkets, Argos, Sports Direct and Amazon. They usually have a little instruction booklet with exercises in it. It's easy to store, light to carry and cheap to start with. That's all you need.

If you are interested in classes then I run Strength and Balance classes in the Chichester area and also do 1:1 sessions. If you are not in my area you can look on the Later Life Training Instructor directory to find someone near you who may run classes.