Often when I meet with families, they are curious if their views regarding their parents’ mobility/functional potential is realistic or if they are pushing too hard. It is a valid concern. Most families are looking for answers as to why their aging loved ones cannot get stronger. They don’t accept the adage of “this is normal with aging.”
A typical statement heard during family meetings is “my parent seems so weak.” It is common for older adults to be weak, but the consequences of leg weakness are rarely explained. As we age, we lose strength and muscle mass which interferes with our ability to maintain the activity level and quality of life that we desire. Loss of “Functional Leg Strength” is evident when a person needs assistance with any form of mobility, e.g., need of a cane or walker for stability or lack of steadiness on one’s feet.
“Functional Leg Strength” equates to the amount of leg strength that allows older adults to be independent and safe with transfers and walking. Specifically, functional leg strength enables one to pick up one’s feet when walking, take longer strides, push to standing from sitting and to lift legs in and out of the shower or car. Functional leg strength will also help in reducing reliance on a cane, walker, etc.
Mobility and safety are accomplished with strong legs, but there are many misconceptions about how to build strength. Let’s start with the definition: muscular strength occurs by gradually increasing the ability to resist force by using weights or machines. Strength training, by definition, requires that resistance be present to gain muscle. Lifting a leg off the bed is a common, suggested exercise but it is not effective strength training. Resistance, such as a weight, needs to be added to increase strength. The second important part of the definition is the word increasing resistance. At Tandem Strength & Balance, we know when one is able to lift 4 pounds with 4 specific laying-flat exercises, mobility and balance improve. On average this occurs in about 4-6 weeks. The ultimate goal is to lift 7-10 pounds.
Unfortunately, many people also think that once leg strength improves, it is permanent. This is another misconception. People start losing strength three to five days without strength-resistance training. Improving and maintaining functional leg strength only takes 10 minutes, two times per week, but the most difficult component is that it needs to be practiced for the rest of the person’s life. Anther misconception is that walking, swimming, biking, climbing stairs or golfing are leg strengthening exercises. These exercises are great for heart health and building aerobic endurance, but you must have adequate leg strength to be able to do these activities.
To continue to participate in activities that one loves, strength-resistance training is required to ensure functional leg strength.
People find hope and reassurance while working with Tandem Strength & Balance! We talk through specific issues, whether it be poor leg strength, fear, muscle tightness, poor endurance, chronic illness, etc., that may be stopping their aging loved ones from achieving their goals. We help aging seniors “live life the way they want to live it” as most physical challenges simply require time, patience and strength-resistance training.