Are you over age 65 and wondering which is better for your body: cardio exercise or weight training?

Does it even make a difference if you’re over 65 when it comes to these two categories of exercises?

“Cardio exercise and weight training have distinct purposes and should be pursued in tandem,” says Monica Charlton, certified personal trainer and Silver Sneakers certified trainer at All Inclusive Health, a personal training studio in New Orleans.

“Cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart and muscles, burns calories, boosts mood, and reduces stiffness and arthritic pain,” continues Charlton.

“Strength training improves bone health and maintains muscle mass. It also improves balance, posture and coordination.

“For best results, elderly folks should engage in both types of exercise.”

You should to both types of exercise. However, for the sake of argument, what if you had to choose either aerobics or strength training?

Lifting weights wins, hands down.

A sedentary older person will usually have difficulty with cardio exercise beyond casual paced walking, gentle low impact aerobics or a pedaling-type machine.

It will be quite a while before they can advance to walking hills, jogging and more intense aerobics like a standard step class.

But they need to just stick with it, and make sure that their primary care physician is aware of a new exercise venture.

Lifting Weights for the Elderly Is More User Friendly

Though strength training may seem “intimidating” to some older novices, it may also seem very user-friendly to other novices — at least when compared to aerobic exercise which may leave an elderly person out of breath after only a few minutes.

  • Strength training can be done immediately
  • Strength increases will come quickly with proper instruction and adherence to correct form and technique.
  • Strength training can be done in a seated position as well.

Lifting weights, far more than cardio, will increase bone density–and this is very important to anyone over 65.

Cardio workouts have their virtues, but they won’t do anything for bone density in the upper body, whereas there are countless upper body weightlifting moves that will drive up bone density.

Leg workouts with weights (e.g., squats, leg press, deadlift) will strengthen the hip and knee joints.

These motions mimic those of everyday living. Every time an older person struggles to get out of a car or chair, this is very similar to the joint motions required of a squat or leg press.

By performing careful squatting routines and leg presses at a gym, the senior person will become much more efficient at everyday tasks such as rising out of a chair.

Older people carry groceries and garbage, and may want to scoop up small grandchildren.

Upper body weightlifting routines will improve their ability to handle these tasks.

Aerobic workouts will give older people more stamina to do things like housework, shopping and sightseeing.

Something Very Interesting About Weight Training for Senior Adults

Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Again, the 65+ person should do BOTH weights and cardio. But for those who are “intimidated” by the idea strength training, there’s a very intriguing phenomenon you need to be aware of.

It’s that of people who are clearly at least 70 who can barely walk, yet kick butt on weightlifting equipment.

If you have difficulty walking, do not assume you can’t use leg strength training machines.

I’ve also witnessed old-age people limping around the gym yet working out with big dumbbells while seated.

The Takeaway

• Do both aerobic exercise and strength training.

• Make sure your doctor clears you for specific exercises. For example, if you’ve had knee replacements, you may be told to avoid the leg extension machine.

• Ask a trainer at the gym to teach you correct form, even for seemingly simple moves like seated biceps curls.

monica charltonAll Inclusive Health’s training services include fitness/body composition assessments, nutrition planning, running programs and customized programs for clients with disabilities or injuries.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: