Andrews Senior Care activity directors attend information session on strength training for seniors
February 29, 2024

“You don’t use it, you lose it.”

That was the core message for Andrews Senior Care activity directors at a recent information session on strength training for seniors hosted by Jason Mosher, owner and operator of Naturally Fit gym in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Jason, who has an extensive history in strength sports as well as working as a group trainer, personal trainer and fascial stretch therapist, spent an afternoon in early February guiding our activity directors through a series of exercises and how to incorporate them into their exercise programs for residents living in senior care.

He said for most seniors the goal of strength training is to maintain physical independence.

“We’re not going to get hypertrophy, which is recruiting more muscle fiber,” Jason said. “We’re just trying not to lose what we had. With strength training, we’re not talking about going and deadlifting 800 lbs when you’re 80 years old. We’re talking about being able to pull your socks up on your own.

That loss of mobility and independence is an experience Jason understands professionally as well as personally. Over the course of his career, he’s trained everyone from high-performance athletes to stroke survivors and people recovering from surgery. But after a fall from a 17-foot ladder in 2022, he had to build his own body back up.

“Broke both my arms, smashed my head really bad,” he said.

“Torn bicep, torn shoulder, torn pec, torn abductor, both knees, both ankles, ribs. I had five herniated discs in my back. My neck was pretty near broken but I’ve corrected pretty much all of that. It really gave me a lot of time to dissect a lot of my training.”

For Jason, the injury reinforced the importance of having a strong physical foundation.

“You slip on some ice, strength training and mobility training will allow you to recover from that slip,” he said. “If you’re stiff and fragile you’re going down and you’re going to break your hip.”

Exercises he recommends for seniors starting out include chair squats, offset step-ups, weighted core twists and offset farmer carries. All of these can be done with as little weight as 1 or 2 lbs and can be modified depending on the person’s current mobility and strength levels.

“Heavy for you can be way too heavy for me,” he said. “You want to go very minimal at first and when that’s super easy, then you increase. We’re going to start with very basic movements and see where our recovery is. As we age, it’s not so much about ‘I feel strong,’ it’s that I don’t recover as well. You have to keep that as a factor.”

Annelize Malan, activity director at Andrews of Summerside, attended the information session and will be expanding her residents’ current exercise routine to include more strength training.

“My goal is to introduce it to residents who want to do a bit more,” she said. “It’s something that they’ve never done or haven’t done in the last number of years. There are some people who’ve never lifted a weight in their lives.”

While a majority of residents prefer to do exercises seated, Annelize hopes to improve their confidence over the long term.

“Getting them to do a little bit more and getting the confidence in standing up and holding onto a chair or doing exercise next to their chair,” would be a realistic goal for a lot of her residents.

Sharon Woods-Bryenton, activity director at Andrews of Stratford, already had strength training elements in her senior care fitness classes but will be adding more going forward.

“It’s just so important for our seniors to have good core strength and balance,” she said. “The more we can do to help them build that or maintain that strength, the better.”

While many people are hesitant about starting strength training as a senior, Jason said there’s no age limit.

“My oldest client was 92 years old, after a stroke,” he said. “There’s no expiry date. You can start at any time but you have to start with reasonable expectations. There’s going to be atrophy. There’s going to be weakness. But you’re getting these things fired up. Start any time. You want to get out of bed? Start.”