I wrote this blog with you and your mom (or dad) in mind. I was talking to a UBite the other day, and he told me that a few years back, his mother pulled her Achilles tendon. He said the doctor told her not to worry about strengthening it because, at her age, its just going to continue to get weaker anyway.
This is sad to hear. On the one hand, loss of flexibility, decrease in muscle cells (sarcopenia), increase in body fat, and sluggish metabolism do accompany aging but are not solely caused by it. In fact, most changes start to occur just after middle age. They are more commonly symptoms of inactivity.
The chain of events look something like this. As a person ages, they typically become more inactive, causing muscle atrophy, which is then amplified by sarcopenia which is an inevitable part of aging. Inactivity leads to significantly diminished levels of performance, flexibility, balance, and strength while the metabolism lowers, and body fat increases. As a person travels down this path, the logical extension of this accumulating loss in performance is ultimately a significant loss of functionality.
And this is the part people accept as the inevitable path of an aging person... wrong! The truth of the matter is the older you get, the more essential strength training is for your overall health. Most elderly understand the need for cardio, but they would never believe barbell training to be best prescription for the prevention of all of these age-related problems.
Staying active pushes back the onset of muscle atrophy, and even for those becoming more active as they age will actually gained muscle mass, improved their strength, proprioception, flexibility and balance. (Twelve weeks of strength training can increase walking endurance more than walking by itself fails to do. Power to the squat!)
Studies out there have shown strength training for the elderly to have many other benefits, such as reducing resting blood pressure (Harris & Holly, 1987), improving blood lipid profiles (Stone et al., 1982), increasing gastrointestinal transit speed (Koffler et al., 1992), enhancing glucose utilization (Hurley, 1994), alleviating low back pain (Risch et al., 1993), increasing bone mineral density (Menkes et al., 1993), easing arthritic discomfort (Tufts, 1994), relieving depression (Singh et al., 1997), and improving postcoronary performance (Stewart et al., 1988). And you know what? None of these studies reported any training related injuries, and many of the participants stuck with strength training after their participation in a study.
So the next time you plan on getting your squat on, bring mom along! Who knows, she might even like it.