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Choosing strength-training equipment for older adults: the benefits and advantages of Universal Design by Wayne T. Phillips, PhD, FACSM

In recent years there has been an increasing focus on the value of maintaining and increasing independence for older adults. This has occurred across a broad spectrum of the aging market, including senior centers, community centers and fitness centers. This same focus has also been seen in a broad range of senior housing, particularly continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and assisted living communities, where aging in place is a paramount aspiration. The positive contribution of exercise—particularly strength training—in maintaining and improving independence and quality of life is now unquestioned. As a result of this, fitness and community centers are increasingly looking to cater to an aging clientele, while strength training, “fitness rooms” and/or wellness centers are becoming an accepted part of senior housing facilities and programming focused on this population.

The type of equipment purchased can make a major contribution to the success of any strength-training program for older adults. At the most basic level, if equipment is attractive, safe and easy to use, classes and participation generally are far more likely to begin and to continue. However, choices and purchase decisions for strength equipment often need to be made by individuals who have little or no experience or expertise in the use or operation of such equipment by older adults. This article presents evidence-based principles and guidelines that will enable intelligent and appropriate equipment purchase decisions to be made. These guidelines provide a template for a professional assessment of the equipment’s safety, ease of use and appropriateness for the desired population.

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