Staying Strong at Any Age
Strength training and working out with weights helps senior citizens stay fit and healthy.
While teaching a body sculpting class in Buffalo, NY, instructor Margaret Richards posed an important question to her 30 students: How many of you have a sister, a mother, or a daughter who uses weights as part of her exercise routine?
Only four raised their hands.
"I don't think a lot of people work out with weights, especially women," said Richards, a former TV fitness instructor who now teaches at Brookline Ballet. "I'm trying really hard to reach people. I think the media has reached people in terms of letting them know that aerobic activity is important. But strength training is extremely important. There's a myth that all you need is cardio."
Richards, 64, brought the concept of body sculpting and working out with weights into the public's eye about 25 years ago with her popular television show, "Body Electric." Richards was working in Tallahassee, FL when she was approached by people from a local cable news station who asked if she was interested in doing a show.
"It was successful," Richards said, "So the PBS station, which is part of Florida State University, offered to put it on their satellite. I thought it would get picked up in Jacksonville at best, but little by little it got picked up all over the country."
"Body Electric" is still being broadcast today across the country. Since those earlier shows, Richards has created over 40 exercise videos, has written a book, filmed a video for the National Institute on Aging and testified before the U.S. Senate on the importance of fitness.
"I'm totally invested in teaching people," Richards said. "It's my passion."
Ruthann Dobek, director of the Brookline Senior Center agrees strength training is very important at any age, but could be life-saving for the elderly.
"We're finding that strength training is crucial—especially when dealing with falls that can be so deadly to a senior," Dobek said. "Strength training and balance training can be very helpful in that case."
The Brookline Senior Center and Brookline Adult and Community Education offer classes such as Senior Stretch, Strength Training for Seniors, and Balance and Flexibility for Seniors, as well as yoga and Tai chi. There is a fee for these classes, but Dobek says free classes are also offered.
"We have an exercise class for people with arthritis that has no charge," Dobek said. "And it runs periodically. There's an old saying, 'If there was one prescription for longevity, it would be exercise, exercise, exercise!' It helps in so many ways."
Richards' body sculpting classes at Brookline Ballet run for 60 minutes each and are filled with toning and muscle-building activities. They can be tough, but Richards motivates and supports her students as they turn into healthier and happier individuals.
"If they stick with it for a few weeks, they will see a difference in their tone and they'll see their body change," Richards says. "It doesn't matter how old you are. Your muscles will respond to challenge. There's no limit to what you can do."