Strength training can seem intimidating to those unfamiliar with the practice, but this diverse exercise option isn't reserved for bodybuilders. Folks of any age can benefit from doing resistance exercises and weight lifting two times a week.
For starters, strength training (literally just working against gravity) can get you stronger and more flexible, and increase self-esteem and connections with others during group exercise sessions. Before you begin, get the all-clear from your doctor, and be sure to lay a proper foundation with good form. Soon, you'll be reaping all these benefits and more.
Without exercise, muscle mass begins to decrease in our early 40s, at approximately 5% per decade. Numerous studies show that lifting weights puts the brakes on this process (called sarcopenia), and older folks who lift weights can gain back lost muscle mass and strength.
These gains help keep older adults mobile and independent, able to lift and carry heavy grocery bags and reach for items from the tops of shelves.
Older adults often struggle with reduced bone mineral density and reduced bone strength. Osteoporosis is a global health problem, and strength training can limit your risk of developing this severe bone loss disorder. Without interventions, fractures are more likely, and these cause pain and other symptoms that reduce the quality of life.
Women are more prone to osteoporosis, and medication can have unsustainable side effects. Safe strength training with good form, on the other hand, is something you can do for the rest of your life to increase bone density, muscle mass, and tendon, ligament, and joint resilience as well.
One major benefit of resistance training is improved balance. Better balance means a lower risk of falling—falls can lead to chronic pain and a loss of independence. The sit-to-stand exercise, for example, builds leg strength and balance and involves sitting down on a chair, then standing, and repeating this movement. You can start with a wall or counter for support, and work up to using just your legs.
Do you have back pain? These days, that's a yes for most people. Strength training that works on the back and shoulders can decrease physical discomfort. Correctly-performed strength training can also assist those with rheumatoid arthritis, knee osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.
Slowly increasing the amount of resistance (aka weight) during a strength training program can reduce stiffness and provide relief.
Your metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that occur in your system—these use up calories. Once we hit 60, our metabolism starts decreasing slowly due to age (decreases can occur earlier, but they'll be because of lifestyle factors, not age). A higher metabolism increases energy levels and circulates blood around the body better. It can also mean a lower chronic disease risk.
Strength training stands apart from cardio fitness in that it increases your metabolic rate. In addition to burning calories during a workout, strength training helps your body becomes more efficient at burning them when you're at rest.
Strength training increases mitochondrial capacity. Mitochondria play a massive role in our energy levels—they use food and oxygen to fuel our bodies. Exercise makes your body produce more mitochondria. When you work out, more oxygen circulates through your body, and this supports mitochondrial function. Exercises also increases hormones that boost energy.
Coupled with dietary changes, including weight lifting in an exercise regimen for older adults who are trying to lose fat. Around a third of seniors in America are considered overweight. While there are other issues that negatively impact health, carrying more weight than your body is meant to can put undue strain on joints and bones and increase the risk of injury.
Increasing muscle mass and metabolism through strength training can help these individuals carry their body weight, reverse frailty, and keep them independent and mobile. It also strengthens the joints in the meantime.
Strength training can also increase mental sharpness, a significant benefit for aging adults who may experience cognitive changes, including memory issues, processing speed, trouble with attention spans, and problem-solving. Lifting weights may improve brain health and function and keep a disease like Alzheimer's at bay.
Declining cognitive abilities can be a source of anxiety, and exercise is also shown to help reduce stress and similar symptoms.
A recent meta-analysis of data from 1.5 million subjects found that muscle-strengthening activities were linked to lower risks of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Not only do you get fitter, but strength training improves your body's response to insulin—insulin resistance can harm the cardiovascular system.
In addition, contracting skeletal muscles (which you do during exercise) produces myokines. These amino acid strings regulate metabolic processes.
Less than 17 percent of older Americans lift weights. If you've convinced yourself you're "too old" or "too unfit" to take on resistance and strength training, and then you complete a workout, it can motivate you to keep exercising. These positive emotions build confidence, adding one more mental benefit to the physical benefits that manifest over time. Exercise can help you sleep better too, and may improve symptoms of depression.