Why strength and resistance training can help you as you age

Keep reading to learn the benefits of building muscle for older adults, and the importance of resistance training routines.

The importance of building muscle as we age

Strength and resistance training can play an important role in healthy aging. The aging process is often associated with a decline in muscle mass, strength and physical stamina. However, incorporating simple strength and resistance training exercises can help older adults maintain muscle mass, improve mobility and reduce certain health risks commonly associated with aging. Even if you didn’t lift weights in your younger years, it’s never too late to realize the benefits of a starting a healthy routine.

In this article, we will discuss the impact of aging on muscle mass, the benefits of building muscle as we age and the importance of incorporating strength and resistance training into our regular physical activity routines.

Strength training can help you age better

Aging is a natural process that impacts our overall bodies, including the muscles. As we age, there is an inevitable decline in muscle mass. In some individuals, this can lead to a syndrome known as sarcopenia, in which the loss of muscle leads to a reduction in strength and function. However, numerous studies have shown that strength and resistance training can help your body combat the physical effects of aging by preserving existing muscle mass and stimulating the growth of new muscle tissue, even beyond age 70. Improved strength, balance and overall physical function can lead to a more active and independent lifestyle.

Other health benefits of strength and resistance training among older adults include:

1) Improved metabolism: Strength training can help you burn more calories by increasing your metabolism. The body’s metabolism typically slows down after age 60, but regular strength exercises can help with weight management and obesity. It also improves insulin sensitivity, which can help treat and prevent Type 2 diabetes.

2) Increased bone and joint health: Resistance training can improve bone health while strengthening muscles. Bone density naturally decreases with age, but strength training exercises can stimulate bone tissue and help prevent osteoporosis. Stronger muscles also can support the joints and reduce injury risks. In patients with osteoarthritis, resistance training has been shown to improve strength and functional ability and to reduce pain, even in patients with advanced disease. Resistance training is also safe and may be beneficial in patients after a joint replacement surgery, such as the knee or hip.

3) Better balance and stability: The risk of injuries from falls can increase as we age, but stronger muscles can lead to improved balance and coordination.

4) Higher energy levels: Regular strength and resistance training can improve energy levels and stimulate endorphins, leading to increased mood and more energy to complete tasks and enjoy life. Resistance training also has shown beneficial effects in the treatment of both depression and anxiety.

5) Muscle strength and growth: Strength exercises can combat the physical effects of sarcopenia as one ages, leading to a stronger and healthier body in the older years.

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6) Improved cardiovascular health: Strength and resistance exercises have been associated with improvements in overall heart health, including reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

“Strength training can enhance our quality of life as we age,” said Luke A. Beggs, M.D., Ph.D., sports medicine specialist with Norton Orthopedic Institute. “Additionally, strength and resistance exercises can be adapted to all fitness levels, making workouts accessible to people of many different ages and abilities. There is a strong correlation between physical strength and reduction in all-cause mortality across the life span. In short, resistance training is one of the few interventions shown to lead to a longer, healthier life.”

Overcoming common misconceptions

Staying active and maintaining strength play an important role for older adults. Several misconceptions exist, however, that can deter people from starting a strength and resistance training routine. Let’s dispel some common rumors surrounding strength training while aging.

Myth: It’s too late to begin a strength training routine

False. It’s never too late to begin a fitness routine, regardless of your age. Older adults can experience significant benefits related to overall health, including muscle strength and bone density. Strength training exercises can be tailored to your age, abilities and current health status. You can use light weights or even ditch the weights altogether; body weight exercises also have been proven to help.

Myth: Cardio is more important for older adults
Cardio training is definitely important, but it’s not the only element for older adults’ overall health and wellness. Resistance training supports cardiovascular, bone and muscle health in different ways.

Myth: I don’t want big muscles at my age
Strength and resistance training among older adults focuses more on functional strength and muscle tone compared with extreme muscle mass gain. Building large, bulky muscles is not the goal and likely is not safe for many older adults’ abilities in the first place. You are more likely to use lighter weights or bands, or rely on body weight exercises.

Myth: I will definitely hurt myself if I try
This does not have to be true. Many older adults are understandably concerned with injury risks and age-related limitations related to strength training. However, approaching a new fitness routine under the guidance of a health professional can help ensure it is both a safe and effective practice for you. Consult with a health professional at Norton Sports Health to tailor a program that accommodates older adults’ individual needs and limitations.

Tips for starting strength training as you age

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that a strength training program should be performed a minimum of two nonconsecutive days each week.  However, starting a strength training routine doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your current lifestyle. You can go to a gym for dedicated training time or incorporate elements of resistance training into your daily routine. For example, simple body weight activities like squats can be integrated into your daily life by taking small breaks throughout the day.

Be sure to consult with a health care professional before starting a new exercise routine. They can offer guidance for exercises that align with your current health status and abilities. Start slow, and be sure to have guidance on proper form and technique to prevent injuries.

  1. Focus on gradual progression: Start with lighter weights and fewer repetitions until your body gets used to new types of movement.
  2. Include resistance bands: A resistance band is a gentle way to add resistance to your exercises, helping to build strength without putting too much strain on the joints. 
  3. Focus on functional movements: Strength training can mimic your everyday movements. Activities like squats, lunges, carries and overhead presses can enhance both strength and flexibility.
  4. Incorporate balance training: Balance exercises can improve strength and stability. Standing on one leg or using a stability ball can improve balance.
  5. Use proper form and technique: Learning and following correct form can reduce the risk of injuries and enhance your strength and resistance workouts. Consider working with a certified trainer or health care professional.
  6. Stay consistent: Consistency is key, as they say. Make a regular schedule and stick to it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends strength training exercises for older adults at least twice per week.
  7. Listen to your body: Some movements may not be compatible with your current health status or abilities. Exercise should feel challenging to a certain degree, but if any movement hurts, stop immediately.
  8. Have fun! Focus on exercises that you find enjoyable. You are more likely to continue with a routine when you experience a sense of fun or fulfillment.

Remember, it’s never too late to start a strength and resistance training routine. Always prioritize your health and safety and be sure your exercises align with your individual needs and current health status.

Feeling strong and empowered with age

Incorporating strength and resistance training exercises can help you live a healthier life while aging. The natural decline of muscle mass among older adults can impact a person’s overall health and well-being, but regular exercises can improve older adults’ strength, balance and muscle function. The health benefits of resistance training are wide-reaching: improved bone density, joint health, metabolism, cognitive function, and emotional/mental health. Regular physical health routines, such as strength and resistance training, can encourage more active and independent lifestyles into the golden years.

The specialists at Norton Sports Health provide medical care and performance training for people at any age or skill level, including older adults. Norton Sports Health also offers programs tailored to older adults, such as Senior LIFEready group fitness classes focusing on improving range of motion, strength training and flexibility for people ages 65 and older.

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