Keep fit: Most of us should be doing strength-building exercise at least twice a week, according to NHS guidelines
Most of us should be doing strength-building exercise — such as lifting weights — at least twice a week, according to NHS guidelines. Doing so helps stave off the natural weakening that comes with age.
In fact, in a study of almost 4,000 older people who lifted weights regularly, those who lifted the heaviest weights lived longer, it was reported at the European Society of Cardiology conference earlier this year.
But long gone are the days when dumbbells were your only option, with weights now coming in a variety of forms — from bars and hoops to gloves and even vests — to suit individual requirements, whether it’s building leg muscles, toning hips or improving wrist strength.
Here, Tim Allardyce, a physiotherapist and clinical director at the Surrey Physio clinic, recommends a selection so you can find one to suit your needs…
W8BAR WEIGHTED AEROBIC BAR
Weight to go! These bars are an alternative to dumbbells for strengthening the upper body
From £18.99, wersports.com
CLAIM: This 1.25m bar comes in different weights, from 2kg to 12kg, and is said to help ‘increase stability, develop core strength and build endurance’.
EXPERT VERDICT: These bars are an alternative to dumbbells for strengthening upper body muscles, especially the arms and shoulders (and are easier to store). This is particularly useful as we age because keeping our arms strong means we maintain independence in lifting and carrying heavy objects.
A good exercise to try is bicep curls, where you hold the bar in both hands and bring it towards your chest. Do ten repetitions, take a rest, then repeat.
Unless you’re familiar with weights and know what you want to use them for, start with the lowest weight and work upwards as you gain strength.
The bar can also be used for aerobic exercise such as circuit training and yoga workouts.
The downside is that, in order to be versatile, the bar is quite long — so you need to practise getting control of it.
BEST FOR: Strengthening arms.
YAKAMOZ FINGER EXERCISER
Tip: This gadget could also be used if you have mild arthritis in the hands, as it gently keeps them mobile
CLAIM: This lightweight gadget has buttons that look like the valves on a trumpet. You can adjust the tension of each button to strengthen each finger individually, the maker says, and it can also improve dexterity, co-ordination and flexibility.
EXPERT VERDICT: Injuries affecting the fingers are known to take months to heal, as the ligaments are slow to recover. But using a finger strengthening tool such as this can help speed up recovery, as it keeps them moving — it improves grip, too.
This gadget could also be used if you have mild arthritis in the hands, as it gently keeps them mobile, which strengthens the muscles. It may even be beneficial for use after a mild stroke, to help improve weakness in the hand.
BEST FOR: Strengthening grip and dexterity after a hand injury or for mild arthritis.
BODYMAX MEDICINE BALL
Fact: There are hundreds of exercises you can do with a medicine ball in order to improve balance, co-ordination and strength
£19.99, powerhouse-fitness.co.uk (pictured above right)
CLAIM: This rubber ball is available from 1kg up to 10kg. Lifting one stretches muscles and makes them more flexible, says the maker.
EXPERT VERDICT: There are hundreds of exercises you can do with a medicine ball in order to improve balance, co-ordination and strength. A 2015 study from the University of Illinois in the U.S. showed that exercising with a weighted ball such as this can improve balance and also lead to fewer falls in older people.
Researchers said doing dynamic movements with the ball — such as catching it with different force, or doing lunges with it in your hands — can make people more prepared for and confident in dealing with sudden or unexpected actions, such as a fall.
My favourite exercise is the walking lunge and twist (which works the quadricep in the thighs, calf muscles and the obliques on the waist). Hold a medicine ball and take a step forward, then bend your front knee and lower yourself so that you are in the lunge position. Holding this position, rotate your torso to one side. Swap and repeat with the other leg forward. Repeat ten times, twice daily.
BEST FOR: General strength and preventing falls.
POWERGLOVES WEIGHTED GLOVES
Age appropriate: These gloves would be suitable for over- 60s to wear for exercises
£8.50, amazon.co.uk (pictured right)
CLAIM: These fabric gloves are heavy, at 0.5kg, 1kg or 2kg per pair. The maker says they strengthen your arms and increase calories burnt while exercising.
EXPERT VERDICT: As we age, muscles start to shrink (known as atrophy), but using a gentle weight can help to improve muscle endurance in the arms and slow this weakening. Used regularly, these weighted gloves can strengthen muscles in the arm — triceps and biceps — as well as the deltoids in the shoulders, which helps make the joints more stable.
These gloves would be suitable for over- 60s to wear for arm exercises — for example, ‘climbing the rope’, where you use one gloved hand to pull an imaginary rope from the ceiling down to your waist ten times, then swap hands. We need to keep these muscles strong as we age, to help us in everyday tasks such as carrying shopping or raising ourselves from a chair or toilet.
BEST FOR: Strengthening the shoulders and arms, especially with age.
OPTI HULA HOOPs
Did you know? Using a hula hoop will help tone muscles in the core and legs
CLAIM: These hoops come in three weights — 0.67kg, 1.25kg and 1.8kg. The maker says using one will help tone core muscles around the abdomen.
EXPERT VERDICT: Using a hula hoop will help tone muscles in the core and legs, as well as improving co-ordination as you rotate the hips and waist to keep it moving. Doing this for five or ten minutes a day will tone up the oblique muscles on the sides of your abdomen and make you stronger.
The movement itself requires a lot of effort, so it gets your heart pumping, too.
A weighted hoop is even more effective than a standard hula hoop, because it is heavier, so makes the muscles work harder. However, it might take practice to master the technique.
BEST FOR: Toning the hips and keeping the heart fit, too.
How it works: Rotating this gadget works the small and large muscles in the arm and shoulder
£19.99, powerballs.com (pictured top right)
CLAIM: Around the size of a Frisbee, this is a circular tube with a steel ball inside. The idea is to hold the handle across the middle of the gadget and spin it so the ball goes round the circular tube.
EXPERT VERDICT: Rotating this gadget works the small and large muscles in the arm and shoulder. The faster you spin it, the more intense the resistance in the muscles, and the tougher it will be.
The product claims to help bust ‘bingo wings’, and it may be effective in toning the arms as you need constantly to use small movements to keep the ball rotating.
There are online videos to show you how to work out with this gadget and it is suitable for most ages and abilities, as you are in control of how intensely you use it.
BEST FOR: Toning ‘bingo wings’ and shoulders.
YORK FITNESS ANKLE AND WRIST WEIGHTS
Multi-purpose: As well as strengthening the leg, these could works the outer gluteal muscles near the hip
From £12, yorkfitness.com
CLAIM: Made from a tough fabric and filled with a sand-like substance, these weights — available in a combined heaviness of 1kg to 10kg per pair — wrap around your ankles or wrists and are secured with Velcro.
EXPERT VERDICT: These are an excellent addition to any exercise programme, especially in the over-60s, as they are easy to use and the added weight strengthens the muscles around the joints.
For example, you could wear them to do the leg abduction exercise. Stand next to a wall, take one leg out to the side and hold for five seconds. Repeat ten times on each side.
As well as strengthening the leg, the move works the outer gluteal muscles around the hip. This improves balance and makes us less likely to suffer falls, as having stronger muscles means we are more stable.
If you have arthritis, exercise around the joint may also help to relieve some of the pain.
Choose a weight that is suitable for you — it should make your limb feel heavier, but still able to move comfortably. Don’t be tempted to wear them all the time, though, as you may overwork the muscle and cause injury.
BEST FOR: Strengthening weak wrists and ankles, improving balance and preventing falls.
JAXJOX KETTLEBELL CONNECT
Gym aid: This would appeal to those who enjoy carefully tracking workouts
CLAIM: Dubbed ‘the world’s first digital kettlebell’, this comes with six weight settings. You place the kettlebell on a base unit and select from a screen the weight you want to use. It then attaches the correct weight to the kettlebell. You use it alongside a phone app to track your progress.
EXPERT VERDICT: This would appeal to those who enjoy carefully tracking workouts, as it gives lots of data, such as the number of repetitions, sets and rest time.
Using any kettlebell is a great way to train, as it works on multiple muscle groups at the same time. It depends what exercise you do, but, for example, it can work the lower limbs, core, upper limbs and spine in one movement.
A good one to start with is squats. Hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. Bend your knees to go into a squat position, as far as feels comfortable, then back up again. Repeat 15 times and perform two sets to improve strength in both legs.
BEST FOR: Overall muscle toning — ideal for fitness fanatics who want to make an investment.
BUT DON’T SPLASH OUT ON…
Save your money: For most people, weighted vests are just not necessary
Hyperwear Hyper Vest Pro, from £149.99, amazon.co.uk
CLAIM: This lace-up vest comes with 10lb (just over 4.5kg) of steel weights attached. Worn during workouts, it is said to boost the muscles in your torso.
EXPERT VERDICT: Weighted vests could be useful for those training to build up tolerance to carrying heavy weights — such as part of endurance training for the military, for example. It may also be useful if you are planning a trek with a heavy bag.
However, for most people, weighted vests are just not necessary.
They are uncomfortable and the extra load placed on the body may increase the risk of injury. The price is also high.