As we age, it becomes increasingly important to maintain our strength and mobility. Regular exercise is crucial for seniors, but it’s essential to find exercises that are safe and suitable for our bodies. In this article, we will explore a variety of senior-friendly exercises that focus on building strength. These exercises are gentle, low-impact, and specifically designed with the needs and limitations of seniors in mind. Whether you are a senior looking to increase your strength or a caregiver seeking exercises for your elderly loved one, this article will provide you with a range of exercises that are both effective and safe.

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Benefits of Strength Training for Seniors

Strength training is a crucial component of any senior’s exercise routine. Not only does it help in building and maintaining muscle mass, but it also offers a host of other benefits that can significantly improve overall health and well-being. Let’s delve deeper into these benefits and understand why strength training is essential for seniors.

Improved Bone Health

As we age, our bones tend to become weaker and more susceptible to fractures. Strength training can combat this by strengthening the bones. When we perform resistance exercises, such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, our muscles pull on the bones, stimulating them to become stronger and denser. This is particularly beneficial for seniors who may be at an increased risk of osteoporosis or osteopenia.

Increased Muscle Mass

One of the most noticeable effects of aging is the loss of muscle mass, which is known as sarcopenia. However, regular strength training can help counteract this process. By engaging in exercises that target different muscle groups, seniors can increase their muscle mass and improve their overall strength. This not only enhances their physical performance but also helps with day-to-day activities such as carrying groceries or climbing stairs.

Enhanced Balance and Stability

Falls are a significant concern for seniors, often resulting in serious injuries. Strength training plays a crucial role in improving balance and stability, thereby reducing the risk of falls. When we engage in exercises that challenge our balance, such as standing on one leg or performing modified planks, our body learns to stabilize itself effectively. This translates to better balance and coordination in daily activities, reducing the chances of falls.

Boosted Metabolism and Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight becomes increasingly challenging as we age. However, strength training can help seniors in this aspect as well. By increasing muscle mass, seniors can boost their metabolism, leading to a higher calorie burn even at rest. This is because muscles require more energy to maintain than fat. Additionally, strength training can help seniors preserve their muscle mass while losing weight, which is particularly vital for overall health and longevity.

Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases

Chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer often become more prevalent with age. Fortunately, strength training can significantly reduce the risk of developing these conditions. Regular strength training has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, regulate blood sugar levels, and lower blood pressure. It also helps in managing cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of metabolic disorders, contributing to a healthier and more disease-resistant body.

Enhanced Cognitive Function

Cognitive decline is a common concern among seniors, with conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s becoming more prevalent. Engaging in strength training exercises can have positive effects on cognitive function. Physical activity, including strength training, promotes increased blood flow to the brain, which stimulates the growth of new neural connections and enhances brain function. It has also been found to improve memory and cognitive flexibility, ultimately contributing to better overall brain health.

Important Considerations Before Starting

Before seniors embark on their strength training journey, there are a few essential considerations to keep in mind. It is crucial to prioritize safety and tailor the exercise routine to individual needs and abilities. Here are some key points to consider:

Consulting with a Healthcare Professional

Before starting any new exercise program, it is essential for seniors to consult with their healthcare provider. They can assess any existing health conditions or physical limitations and provide guidance on suitable exercises. It is particularly crucial for individuals with pre-existing chronic conditions or recent injuries to ensure that their exercise routine is safe and appropriate.

Starting with Low-Impact Exercises

For seniors who may have joint pain or mobility issues, it is recommended to begin with low-impact exercises. These exercises are gentle on the joints and minimize the risk of injury. Walking, swimming, or using an elliptical machine are excellent low-impact options to get started. As strength and fitness levels improve, seniors can gradually incorporate more challenging exercises.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Proper warm-up and cool-down routines are essential in any exercise program, especially for seniors. Warming up before a workout helps increase blood flow to the muscles and prepares them for activity, reducing the risk of injury. Cooling down after a workout helps the body gradually return to its resting state and minimizes post-workout soreness. Simple stretches and light cardio exercises are ideal for both warm-up and cool-down.

Gradually Increasing Intensity and Duration

Seniors should avoid jumping into an intense strength training program right away. Instead, it is important to gradually increase both the intensity and duration of the exercises. This allows the body to adapt and avoids overwhelming the muscles and joints. Starting with lighter weights or resistance bands and slowly increasing the load over time is a safe and effective approach.

Listening to Your Body and Adjusting Accordingly

Seniors should always listen to their bodies while exercising. If any discomfort or pain arises, it is crucial to address it promptly. Pushing through pain can lead to further injury or exacerbation of existing conditions. It is important to find a balance between challenging oneself and respecting the body’s limits. Adjusting the intensity, duration, or type of exercises based on individual comfort levels is vital for a safe and sustainable strength training routine.

Selecting the Proper Exercise Equipment

In some cases, you may need to consider using a low impact device to assist you with your exercises. There are a lot of products available such as a pedal exerciser. We have used and reviewed a number of exercise products for seniors. Have a look!

Choosing Exercises that Fit Your Abilities

It is essential to choose strength training exercises that are suitable for individual abilities and fitness levels. Seniors can work with a qualified fitness professional to develop a personalized program that targets their specific needs. This ensures that the exercises are tailored to their abilities while still being challenging enough to promote progress and strength development.

Low-Impact Strength Training Exercises

Not all seniors have access to a gym or specialized equipment. Fortunately, there are numerous low-impact strength training exercises that can be performed at home with minimal equipment. These exercises focus on bodyweight movements or utilize common household items to provide resistance. Here are some examples:

Chair Squats

Chair squats are a great exercise for seniors to strengthen their lower body muscles without putting excessive strain on the joints. Simply stand up from a sitting position, ensuring good form and control, and then sit back down slowly. This exercise targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles.

Resistance Band Exercises

Resistance bands are versatile and affordable exercise tools that can be easily incorporated into a senior’s strength training routine. They provide resistance for various exercises, such as bicep curls, shoulder presses, or leg extensions. Resistance bands come in different levels of resistance, allowing seniors to choose the intensity that suits their needs.

Wall Push-ups

Wall push-ups are an excellent alternative for seniors who find regular push-ups too challenging. Stand facing a wall, place your hands on the wall at shoulder height, and step back slightly. Lean in towards the wall, bending your elbows and bringing your chest closer to the wall. Push back to the starting position. This exercise targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Seated Leg Lifts

Seniors can perform seated leg lifts to strengthen their leg muscles while remaining seated. Sit upright in a chair with feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg straight out in front of you, hold for a few seconds, and then lower it back down. Repeat with the other leg. This exercise targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors.

Bicep Curls with Light Weights

Bicep curls are an effective way to strengthen the arm muscles. Seniors can use lightweight dumbbells or household items such as water bottles or cans as weights. Stand or sit with arms extended down by your sides, palms facing forward. Bend your elbows, bringing the weights towards your shoulders, and then lower them back down. This exercise targets the biceps and forearms.

Modified Plank

The plank exercise is a fantastic way to engage the core muscles and build overall body strength. For seniors who may find a traditional plank too challenging, a modified version can be performed. Start in a kneeling position with hands resting on the floor. Extend one leg back, followed by the other, until you are in a kneeling plank position. Hold for a few seconds, engaging the core, and then lower back down. This exercise targets the core muscles, shoulders, and back.

Side Leg Raises

Side leg raises are a beneficial exercise for targeting the hip abductor muscles, which play a significant role in stability and balance. Stand next to a chair and hold on for support if needed. Lift one leg out to the side, keeping it straight, and then lower it back down. Repeat with the other leg. This exercise targets the hip abductor muscles and helps strengthen the legs.

Seated Rowing

Seated rowing exercises are excellent for seniors who have access to a resistance band or cable machine. Sit on a chair or bench with your legs extended in front of you and loop the resistance band around your feet. Hold the resistance band handles and pull them towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly release back to the starting position. This exercise targets the back muscles and improves posture.

Heel-to-Toe Walk

The heel-to-toe walk is a simple but effective exercise to improve balance and coordination. Simply walk in a straight line, placing the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other foot with each step. It challenges the body’s balance systems and helps improve stability.

Benefits of Walking for Seniors

Walking is a low-impact activity that offers an array of benefits for seniors. It is a simple yet effective exercise that can be enjoyed anywhere, making it accessible to individuals of all fitness levels. Here are some key benefits of walking:

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Regular walking can have a significant positive impact on cardiovascular health. It helps improve circulation and increases heart rate, leading to a stronger heart muscle. Walking can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and improve overall cardiovascular fitness.

Strengthens Muscles and Joints

Though walking is a low-impact activity, it still provides a weight-bearing stimulus for the muscles and joints. By maintaining an upright posture and engaging the core muscles while walking, seniors can strengthen their leg muscles and stabilize the joints. This can help improve overall strength and mobility, making daily activities easier.

Enhances Mood and Mental Well-being

Walking is known to boost mood and contribute to better mental well-being. It releases endorphins, also known as “feel-good” hormones, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, walking outdoors exposes seniors to natural sunlight, which boosts vitamin D production and has been linked to better mental health.

Increases Balance and Coordination

Walking requires the body to maintain balance and coordination, which are essential skills for everyday activities. By regularly engaging in walking, seniors can improve their balance and reduce the risk of falls. Walking on uneven terrain or incorporating balance exercises into the walk, such as walking heel to toe or on curbs, can further enhance balance skills.

Helps with Weight Management

Walking is a great activity for weight management, especially for seniors who may have joint issues or limited mobility. It is a low-intensity exercise that can help burn calories, maintain a healthy weight, and support overall metabolic function. Combining regular walking with a balanced diet can contribute to weight loss or weight maintenance goals.

Boosts Immune Function

Moderate-intensity exercise like walking has been shown to enhance immune function. Regular walking can strengthen the immune system, making seniors less susceptible to illnesses and infections. It is particularly important for seniors to prioritize immune function, as they may have a higher risk of complications from infectious diseases.

Tips for Safe and Effective Walking

While walking is generally a safe and accessible exercise, there are certain tips that seniors should keep in mind to ensure a safe and effective walking routine. By incorporating these tips, seniors can maximize the benefits of walking while minimizing the risk of injury:

Choosing Proper Footwear

Wearing appropriate footwear is crucial for a comfortable and safe walking experience. Seniors should invest in supportive and comfortable walking shoes that provide proper cushioning and stability. Shoes should have a well-fitted heel and toe box, allowing for proper foot alignment and preventing blisters or discomfort.

Finding a Comfortable Walking Pace

Seniors should walk at a pace that feels comfortable for them. It is essential to start at a pace that allows for conversation without breathlessness. As fitness levels improve, seniors can gradually increase their walking speed or distance. The goal should be to challenge the body while still being able to maintain good form and breath control.

Maintaining Good Posture

Maintaining good posture while walking is essential for preventing discomfort and ensuring optimal movement. Seniors should keep their head up, shoulders relaxed, and spine in a neutral position. Engaging the core muscles and swinging the arms naturally can help maintain a balanced and efficient walking form.

Using Assisitive Devices if Necessary

Seniors who may require additional support or assistance can use walking aids such as canes or walkers. These devices provide stability and confidence while walking, reducing the risk of falls. It is important to use assistive devices correctly and consult with a healthcare professional if assistance is needed.

Increasing Intensity with Interval Training

To challenge the body and improve cardiovascular fitness, seniors can incorporate interval training into their walks. Interval training involves alternating between periods of higher intensity and lower intensity. For example, seniors can periodically increase their pace or walk uphill for a short duration. This variation adds intensity without overexertion.

Staying Hydrated

Proper hydration is key for any physical activity, including walking. Seniors should ensure they drink enough water before, during, and after their walks. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, and other health complications. Carrying a water bottle or planning routes that pass by water fountains can help seniors stay adequately hydrated.

Water-Based Exercises for Seniors

Water-based exercises, also known as aquatic exercises, are excellent for seniors due to their low-impact nature and the buoyancy of water. Exercising in water provides resistance without placing stress on the joints, making it an ideal option for seniors with arthritis or other joint-related issues. Here are some popular water-based exercises:

Aquatic Aerobics

Aquatic aerobics is a group exercise class conducted in the water. It typically involves a combination of cardiovascular exercises, strength training exercises, and stretching. The water provides resistance, making the workout challenging yet gentle on the joints. Aquatic aerobics classes are usually led by certified instructors and are tailored to the needs of seniors.

Water Walking

Water walking is as simple as it sounds – walking in water! Seniors can benefit from walking in a pool or any body of water that provides enough depth to fully submerge the legs. The resistance provided by the water engages the muscles and increases cardiovascular effort compared to walking on land. It is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness and strengthen leg muscles without placing stress on the joints.

Pool Noodle Exercises

Pool noodles are a versatile and inexpensive tool that can be used to add resistance and support during water-based exercises. Seniors can utilize pool noodles in various exercises, such as leg kicks, arm circles, or balance exercises. Pool noodle exercises allow for a full-body workout while engaging core stability and improving overall muscle tone.

Water Weights

Water weights, also known as aqua dumbbells, can be used to add resistance to upper body exercises in the water. These dumbbells are specifically designed to be used in the water, providing resistance without weighing the user down. Seniors can perform exercises such as bicep curls, shoulder presses, or lateral raises with water weights, targeting the muscles of the arms, shoulders, and back.

Floating and Stretching

Floating in water can provide a sense of weightlessness and relaxation, allowing seniors to unwind and stretch their bodies. It can be done with or without the assistance of a floatation device. Seniors can perform gentle stretches while floating, focusing on areas that tend to be tight, such as the neck, shoulders, hips, and legs.

Water Resistance Exercises

Water resistance exercises involve performing strength training movements against the resistance of the water. Seniors can use the resistance of the water to engage various muscle groups. Exercises like water squats, water lunges, or water tricep extensions can target specific muscle groups, providing a challenging workout while minimizing joint stress.

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy refers to the use of water for therapeutic purposes. It involves exercises and movements in warm water, typically in a heated pool. Hydrotherapy can help reduce pain and inflammation, improve joint mobility, and aid in rehabilitation after an injury or surgery. It is often conducted under the guidance of a healthcare professional or trained therapist.

Benefits of Yoga for Seniors

Yoga is a holistic practice that can offer numerous benefits for seniors. It combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to promote overall health and well-being. Here are some key benefits of practicing yoga for seniors:

Improves Flexibility and Balance

Yoga is renowned for improving flexibility, making it an excellent exercise for seniors who may experience stiffness or decreased range of motion. Regular practice of yoga poses can lengthen and stretch muscles, tendons, and ligaments, increasing overall flexibility. This increased flexibility improves balance and reduces the risk of falls.

Builds Strength and Muscle Tone

Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just about flexibility; it also helps build strength and muscle tone. Many yoga poses require engaging and stabilizing various muscle groups, resulting in improved overall strength. Additionally, the isometric contractions involved in yoga poses can help develop muscle endurance.

Promotes Relaxation and Stress Reduction

Yoga incorporates deep breathing and relaxation techniques, making it an excellent practice for reducing stress and promoting relaxation. The focus on mindful breathing and present moment awareness helps seniors unwind, quiet the mind, and find inner calm. Regular yoga practice can significantly reduce stress levels and improve overall mental well-being.

Enhances Mental Clarity and Concentration

Yoga promotes mental clarity and concentration through the combination of movement, breath control, and meditation. The practice of yoga encourages seniors to be fully present and attentive to their bodies and breath, allowing the mind to calm and focus. Improved mental clarity can have a positive impact on cognitive function and daily activities.

Supports Joint Health and Mobility

The gentle and controlled movements performed in yoga help support joint health and improve mobility. Yoga poses promote the lubrication of joints and encourage synovial fluid circulation, reducing joint pain and stiffness. The regular practice of yoga can help seniors maintain or improve their joint range of motion, enhancing overall mobility.

Improves Sleep Quality

Many seniors struggle with sleep issues, such as insomnia or poor sleep quality. The relaxation and stress reduction aspects of yoga can have a positive impact on sleep. Regular yoga practice can help calm the mind, release physical tension, and establish a more restful sleep routine. Improved sleep quality can contribute to better overall health and well-being.

Recommended Yoga Poses for Seniors

When practicing yoga, seniors should choose poses that are appropriate for their abilities and physical condition. It is essential to listen to the body and modify poses as needed to ensure safety and comfort. We have also published an in-depth guide to Yoga for Seniors that discusses Yoga poses and the benefits of Yoga for Seniors.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, and weight evenly distributed. Engage the core muscles, align the spine, and relax the shoulders. This pose promotes balance, posture, and mindfulness.

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

Stand with feet hip-width apart and shift the weight onto one leg. Place the sole of the opposite foot on the inner thigh or calf, avoiding placing it directly on the knee. Find a focal point to gaze at and engage the core for stability. This pose enhances balance, focus, and leg strength.

Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

Stand with feet hip-width apart and lower into a seated position, as if sitting back into an imaginary chair. Keep the knees aligned with the toes, engage the core, and lift the chest. This pose strengthens the legs, engages the core, and enhances overall lower body strength.

Cat-Cow Stretch

Begin on all fours with hands directly below the shoulders and knees below the hips. Inhale, arch the back, lift the head, and open the chest (cow pose). Exhale, round the back, tuck the chin, and draw the belly button towards the spine (cat pose). Repeat the sequence, moving with the breath. This pose improves spinal flexibility and mobility.

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

Step one foot forward into a lunge position and turn the back foot slightly inward. Keep the front knee aligned with the toes and extend the arms out parallel to the floor. Gaze over the front fingertips, engage the core, and sink into the lunge. This pose strengthens the legs, opens the hips, and increases overall body awareness.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Press the feet into the floor, engage the glutes, and lift the hips off the ground. Interlace the hands behind the back, rolling the shoulders underneath. Hold the pose for a few breaths and gently release. This pose strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Sit with legs extended in front and bend the right knee, placing the right foot on the outside of the left knee. Place the right hand behind the back, and the left hand on the outside of the right knee. Inhale, lengthen the spine, and exhale, twist to the right. Repeat on the other side. This pose improves spinal mobility and stretches the back muscles.

Corpse Pose (Savasana)

Lie on your back with legs extended and arms by your sides. Close the eyes and allow the body to relax completely. Focus on deep, slow breathing and let go of any tension in the body. Hold the pose for several minutes. This final relaxation pose calms the mind, reduces stress, and promotes overall relaxation.

Weight Training for Seniors

Weight training, also known as resistance training, is a valuable addition to any senior’s exercise routine. It helps build and maintain muscle strength, which is essential for maintaining functional independence and overall health. Here are some important considerations and tips for seniors engaging in weight training:

Importance of Proper Form and Technique

Proper form and technique are crucial when performing weight training exercises. Seniors should prioritize learning the correct form from a qualified trainer or fitness professional before attempting any new exercises. Good form ensures maximum effectiveness and minimizes the risk of injury.

Starting with Lighter Weights and Higher Reps

Seniors should begin their weight training journey by using lighter weights and focusing on higher repetitions. This allows the body to adapt to the new stimulus gradually and reduces the risk of excessive soreness or injury. As strength and confidence grow, seniors can gradually increase the weight and lower the repetitions.

Progressing Gradually to Heavier Weights

As strength and fitness levels improve, seniors can start incorporating heavier weights into their training. However, it is important to progress gradually and avoid sudden increases in weight. Slow and consistent progression allows the muscles, joints, and connective tissues to adapt and grow stronger over time.

Targeting Major Muscle Groups

Seniors should focus on exercises that target the major muscle groups, including the legs, chest, back, shoulders, arms, and core. Compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, rows, and overhead presses, are particularly effective for overall strength development.

Incorporating Compound Exercises

Compound exercises involve movements that utilize multiple joints and muscle groups. These exercises mimic real-life movements and involve a higher degree of muscle activation. Seniors should incorporate compound exercises into their weight training routine to improve functional strength and enhance overall physical performance.

Allowing for Adequate Rest and Recovery

Proper rest and recovery are essential for seniors engaging in weight training. It is important to allow the body enough time to repair and rebuild muscle tissue between workouts. Seniors should aim for at least 48 hours of rest between weight training sessions, focusing on other forms of exercise or active recovery on non-weight training days.

Using Weight Machines or Free Weights

Seniors have the option to choose between weight machines and free weights when performing resistance exercises. Weight machines provide stability and control, making them suitable for seniors who may need additional support or have strength imbalances. Free weights, such as dumbbells or barbells, allow for a greater range of motion and can enhance overall functional strength.

Seeking Guidance from a Certified Trainer

Seniors who are new to weight training or have specific concerns or limitations should consider seeking guidance from a certified fitness professional. A trainer can design a personalized program, monitor form and progress, and provide support throughout the weight training journey. Working with a trainer ensures safety and enhances the effectiveness of the exercise routine.

Stretches for Improved Flexibility

Flexibility is a vital component of overall fitness, promoting joint health, and preventing injuries. Seniors can incorporate stretching exercises into their routine to improve flexibility and maintain mobility. Here are some simple stretches that target various muscle groups:

Neck Stretches

Gently tilt the head to one side, bringing the ear towards the shoulder. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretch targets the muscles in the side of the neck, promoting flexibility and reducing tension.

Shoulder Rolls

Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Roll the shoulders back in a circular motion, focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades together. Repeat for several repetitions, then reverse the motion. This stretch releases tension in the shoulder and upper back muscles.

Chest Stretches

Stand in a doorway, placing one arm on the doorframe at a 90-degree angle. Slowly turn the body away from the arm to feel a gentle stretch in the chest muscles. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretch helps counteract the forward rounding of the shoulders and opens the chest.

Hamstring Stretches

Sit on the edge of a chair or bench with one leg extended in front. Lean forward from the hips, reaching towards the extended foot. Maintain a straight back and avoid rounding the shoulders. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and repeat on the other leg. This stretch targets the hamstring muscles on the back of the thigh.

Quadriceps Stretches

Stand near a wall or use support for balance. Bend one knee, bringing the heel towards the buttocks, and grasp the ankle or foot. Gently pull the foot towards the buttocks to feel a stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other leg. This stretch targets the quadriceps muscles.

Calf Stretches

Stand facing a wall, roughly an arm’s length away. Place both hands on the wall and step one foot back, keeping both heels flat on the ground. Lean forward, bending the front knee, until a stretch is felt in the calf muscle of the back leg. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other leg.

Hip Stretches

Sit on the edge of a chair or a bench with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee and gently press on the elevated knee to feel a stretch in the hip. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretch targets the hip muscles and promotes hip flexibility.

Back Stretches

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hug both knees towards the chest, clasping the hands around the shins. Rock gently from side to side to massage the lower back and release tension. This stretch targets the lower back muscles and promotes spinal flexibility.

By incorporating stretches for improved flexibility into their routine, seniors can enhance range of motion, reduce muscle stiffness, and improve overall joint health.

Now that you are aware of the numerous benefits of strength training, walking, water-based exercises, yoga, and weight training, as well as the importance of stretching, you can tailor your exercise routine to your specific needs and preferences. Remember to always prioritize safety, listen to your body, and consult with a healthcare professional or certified trainer if needed. By committing to regular exercise and finding joy in the process, seniors can significantly improve their quality of life and continue to thrive as they age.