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The Importance of Strength and Power For Aging

May 31st, 2024 | 7 min. read

The Importance of Strength and Power For Aging
Jenny Tesley

Jenny Tesley

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // EW Motion Therapy Tuscaloosa

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As we age, maintaining our physical health becomes increasingly crucial. Two key components that often get overlooked are strength and power. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they represent distinct aspects of our physical capabilities. Understanding the differences between strength and power, recognizing their importance, and knowing how to preserve and enhance them can significantly improve quality of life. Physical therapy is often a valuable asset in safely improving strength and power in older adults - we love helping our older patients do this every day at EW Motion Therapy through an individualized care plan. Even if you decide that our physical therapy doesn’t fit your needs, you can still read on to learn about the importance of strength and power as you age. 


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Strength vs. power

Strength and power, though related, are not the same. Strength refers to the maximum amount of force a muscle or group of muscles can exert. It's what allows you to lift heavy objects, carry groceries, or push a heavy door open. Power, on the other hand, is the ability to exert force quickly over a period of time. It combines strength with the velocity of the movement, enabling you to move quickly and react swiftly. Power is what helps you rise from a chair, climb stairs quickly, or catch yourself if you start to fall.


While strength is crucial for performing everyday tasks, power is essential for dynamic movements and maintaining balance, and the two often work together as you move. Activities like moving a piece of furniture, pulling open a heavy door, and lifting a suitcase into an overhead compartment all require both strength and power. If you have one without the other, you wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of these tasks. 


Why is it important to maintain strength and power as you age?

As you age, your body experiences changes that can lead to a reduction in strength and power. These include neuronal loss, slowed conduction/reaction time, and decreased muscle mass. Strength and power are critical for maintaining independence and reducing the risk of injuries, especially falls, which are a common and serious concern for older adults. Let’s review the primary benefits of maintaining strength and power.


Preserving independence

One of the most significant benefits of maintaining strength and power as you age is the preservation of independence. Strong muscles allow you to perform daily tasks without assistance, such as getting out of bed, dressing, and bathing. Power enables you to perform these tasks quickly and efficiently, reducing the effort required and conserving energy.


Reducing fall risk

Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Maintaining strength helps support joints and stabilizes the body, reducing the risk of falls. Power is equally important because it allows for quick corrective actions if you start to lose your balance. A rapid, powerful response can mean the difference between a minor stumble and a serious fall.


Enhancing mobility

Both strength and power contribute to overall mobility. Strength is necessary for activities like walking, climbing stairs, and lifting objects. Power enhances your ability to move quickly and safely, allowing you to participate in more dynamic activities such as dancing, playing with grandchildren, or participating in sports.


Boosting metabolic health

Maintaining muscle mass through strength training can boost your metabolism, helping to manage weight and reduce the risk of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Power training, often involving high-intensity exercises, can also improve cardiovascular health by increasing heart rate and promoting better circulation.


Negative effects of losing strength or power


Increased risk of falls and injuries

As mentioned, losing strength and power increases the risk of falls and related injuries. Weak muscles and poor balance can lead to more frequent and severe falls, which can result in fractures, hospitalizations, and even loss of independence.


Reduced mobility and independence

Loss of strength and power can lead to reduced mobility, making it difficult to perform daily activities. This reduction in physical capability can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, further exacerbating muscle loss and decreasing overall health.


Decreased quality of life

When physical capabilities decline, it can significantly impact quality of life. Activities that were once enjoyable may become challenging or impossible, leading to feelings of frustration and depression. Maintaining strength and power allows for a more active, fulfilling lifestyle.


Tips to improve strength and power at home

The best way to work on both strength and power at home is with specific exercises. Incorporating a speed element into any of these movements can assist in building power. For example, seeing how many times you can sit down and stand up from a chair in a minute is a great test that combines strength and power and gives you an idea of your overall function. Here are a few more examples of strength training.


  1. Bodyweight exercises: Push-ups, squats, and lunges are excellent for building strength without needing equipment. 
  2. Resistance bands: These are inexpensive and versatile tools that can add resistance to various exercises, helping to build strength.
  3. Weight training: Using dumbbells or household items like water bottles can provide resistance to strengthen muscles.
  4. Interval training: Combining high-intensity bursts of activity with periods of rest can improve both strength and power.


Flexibility and balance exercises can also be beneficial to improve mobility and maintain independence. Here are a few examples to try.


  1. Yoga: Regular practice of yoga can improve flexibility, strength, and balance.
  2. Tai chi: This gentle martial art enhances balance and coordination, reducing fall risk.
  3. Stretching: Daily stretching routines can maintain and improve flexibility, supporting overall mobility.


If you decide to try any of these exercises at home, confirm with your doctor or physical therapist that it is safe for you to do so, and perform the exercises under the observation of a caregiver or qualified professional.


How physical therapy can help

Physical therapy is crucial in maintaining and improving strength and power as you age. Physical therapists are trained to design personalized exercise programs that cater to individual needs and limitations.


Personalized exercise programs

A physical therapist can assess your current physical condition and develop a tailored exercise program targeting strength and power. These programs are designed to be safe and effective, considering any existing health conditions or injuries.


Education and monitoring

Physical therapists provide valuable education on proper exercise techniques, ensuring that exercises are performed safely and effectively. They can also offer guidance on how to incorporate exercises into your daily routine and make adjustments as needed. Regular sessions with a physical therapist allow for ongoing monitoring of progress. They can adjust your program as you improve, introducing new exercises or progressively loading weight to continue building strength and power.


Injury prevention 

Physical therapists can help prevent injuries by teaching proper movement patterns and addressing any underlying issues such as poor posture, muscle imbalances, stability, and coordination. 


Enhancing overall health

Engaging in physical therapy can improve overall health, including better cardiovascular health, increased flexibility, and enhanced mental well-being. Physical therapy's holistic approach addresses multiple aspects of health, contributing to a higher quality of life.


Maintaining strength and power as you age is crucial for preserving independence, reducing the risk of falls, enhancing mobility, maintaining an active lifestyle, and boosting overall health. Incorporating strength and power training into your routine, along with flexibility and balance exercises, can significantly improve your physical capabilities. By prioritizing strength and power, you can enhance your quality of life and enjoy your favorite activities pain-free for years to come. 


Physical therapy offers personalized support, ensuring that exercises are safe and effective, and providing education and guidance to help you achieve your goals. Personalized care is a cornerstone of our treatment philosophy at EW Motion Therapy - we work with you to ensure your plan is helping you work toward your goals and make adjustments as necessary. Reducing fall risk is a primary benefit of improving strength and power - to learn more about preventing falls at home, click the button below to download our free home safety guide.


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