Is there something you’d like to accomplish, somewhere you’d like to travel, or activities you’d enjoy… if only you had the physical strength? Take heart — and take action. It’s never too late to get stronger —anyone can do it, at any age.
Men and women of all ages and fitness levels are getting stronger each week by lifting weights at a gym, doing strength exercises at home, or participating in a structured muscle-strengthening class.
Here’s the deal — as we get older, we lose muscle mass and strength at a rate of 4-6 pounds per decade. That is, unless we keep our muscles strong and healthy with strength training (also called resistance or weight training). Aerobic exercise has many benefits, but strength training challenges the muscles in very specific ways to help prevent muscle loss.
Losing strength can be very sneaky —you don’t realize how much you’ve lost until you try to get up off the floor or lift a big bag of dog food. I was shocked at how much strength I lost after having health issues several years ago, and didn’t strength-train for about 2 years. The last straw was when I found a 10-lb. dumbbell in my closet, went to move it, and felt as though my arm would fall right out of my shoulder socket. I was horrified – instead of 10 lbs., it felt like 40 or 50 lbs.
A year and a half later, I’m a new woman. Lifting weights not only improved my physical strength, but made me a stronger, more confident person. I feel like I can do anything. I have less low back pain, and more energy. The bonus has been the stress-reducing effects; lifting weights helps me blow off steam.
Should you add strength training to your exercise routine? Yes, as long as your health care provider agrees. Strength training:
- Preserves and increases metabolic rate – so you’ll burn more calories even when you’re sitting still.
- Boosts muscular strength, helping preserve independence and mobility with age.
- Improves body composition and bone mineral density.
- Is at least as effective as aerobic exercise in improving heart disease risk factors such as blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
- Helps prevent falls by improving balance and coordination.
- Elevates mood, reducing symptoms of depression.
- Improves athletic performance.
- And so much more….
I’ve witnessed these strength training benefits in countless patients and clients — many of whom are frail, elderly, and/or coping with multiple chronic conditions. But even my younger, healthier clients experience big payoffs with a commitment to regular strength training.
My mom surprised me a few months ago when she began strength training for the first time in her life — at age 70. She’s never been physically active, but she’s already stronger and can do more with less effort. That’s a huge gift she’s giving herself – and her loved ones. Now she can pick up her young grandchildren, and travel to be with us on special occasions — things that were difficult or impossible before.
Ready to improve the quality of your life, and do things you never thought possible? Go ahead — get started with strength training, and wonderful things are sure to follow.
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.
- Westcott W, ACSM Strength Training Guidelines: Role in Body Composition and Health Enhancement. ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, Vol.13 No. 4, 2009
- Strasser B, Schobersberger W, Evidence for Resistance Training as a Treatment Therapy in Obesity, J Obes. 2011; 2011: 482564.
- Baechle, T, Earle, R, Editors, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition, National Strength and Conditioning Association, Human Kinetics, 2008
- McLafferty CL, et al. Resistance Training is Associated with Improved Mood in Healthy Older Adults. Perceptual and Motor Skills: Volume 98, Issue 3 (June 2004), pp. 947-957.
- Levinger I, Selig S, Goodman C, Jerums G, Stewart A, Hare DL. Resistance training improves depressive symptoms in individuals at high risk for type 2 diabetes. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Aug;25(8):2328-33.
- ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 6th edition, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010