Nothing in life comes easy, and we can say the same about aging gracefully. No matter how many anti-aging creams and supplements you buy, true results won’t come unless you get moving.
Exercise is the fountain of youth for your aging muscles. That’s why it’s no secret that strength training is one of the best workouts for your body.
Anyone is capable of strength and resistance training, and experts like Keith Sobkowiak DPT, a physical therapist and regional director at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, say one of the best times to start is when you’re older. Not only will weight-bearing programs get you physically toned, but your body will be in good condition to ward off age-related diseases along with other benefits.
“Research shows it can also prevent injury, strengthen your body, and give yourself a total mood booster,” adds Emma Lovewell, a cycling instructor at Peloton.
You’re never too old to work out, and your strength exercises can be modified to what your body can handle. A 20-year-old will have a different regimen than a 50-year-old and that’s okay. With enough time and persistence, strength training can get you to reach your best self. The first step is knowing how to start.
What are the benefits of strength training?
There are many advantages to strength training, but by far, the biggest is its effect on your longevity. Resistance training indirectly helps you live longer by making you less susceptible to disease. For example, sports scientists in a 2022 study found doing 30 to 60 minutes of strength training a week lowers your risk of premature aging, heart disease, and cancer by 10 to 20 percent. Dedicating an hour to lifting weights also reduces your diabetes risk significantly.
Getting in shape also works out the most important muscle in the body — the brain. Older adults who engaged in strength training regularly improve their cognition by providing more oxygen to the noggin. What’s more, resistance exercises helped delay the decay of white matter in the brain, which could decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Obviously, cardio workouts reap similar benefits for your health but there are some gains you can’t get from a weekly walk in the park.
Builds bone strength
The drop in estrogen during menopause speeds up bone loss by up to 20 percent. This puts older women at high risk of seriously injuring themselves from a fall. Over time, the low bone density can make you prone to osteoporosis. Ten million Americans have osteoporosis, and 80 percent are women. “The thinning of bones can lead to fractures of both the extremities as well as the spine,” says Jesse Hochkeppel, MD, an Interventional Pain Management specialist at Connecticut Pain Care, who notes the latter is a common cause for chronic back pain and disability in his older female patients.
Strength training and loaded exercises help prevent future bone loss and slow down the onset of these types of diseases by building muscles that help improve your balance. “The more strength you have in your lower extremity and your core, the more you can keep yourself upright and prevent having to use a cane or grab onto a railing,” explains Sobkowiak.
Every year we get older, our metabolism starts to slow down and the effect is most pronounced in women. Less estrogen during perimenopause produces less muscle mass, which promotes a slower metabolism.
Resistance exercise increases your metabolism because of the strain it puts on the body. That’s because the stress on muscle fibers causes micro-tears. The body sends over oxygen and amino acids to heal the microtrauma as well as remodel the muscles to make them tougher. Repairing muscles is a long and energy-consuming process. With no period to rest, your body increases your metabolism to burn more calories and keep up with energy demands.
Improves your mental health
Exercise is a great outlet for people to reduce their stress. Moving your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which block pain and improve feelings of pleasure. It’s also been shown to help prevent and treat the symptoms of depression in postmenopausal women.
Strength training specifically improves your mental health because it keeps your mind from ruminating. Sobkowiak says you’re so focused on your form, your breathing, and the number of reps that you temporarily escape your stressors.
Tips to get started
There is no single way to start resistance training. You can start by exercising at home with dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls and body weight maneuvers such as crunches or push ups, taking a strength-building class or hiring a personal trainer. “Resistance training in postmenopausal women should focus primarily on the leg and core muscles, followed by arms, chest and back,” says Hochkeppel. “In as little as two or three 20 minute sessions of light to moderate resistance training per week, women can improve both their bone density and muscle mass in 12 weeks.”
No matter your preference, keep these three tips in mind.
Pushing yourself past what your body is capable of invites more opportunities for injury. Over time, the goal is to increase the weight you’re using or increase your reps at a gradual rate. “The goal is not to torture ourselves, but to enjoy the process,” says Lovewell. To see progress, try strength training two or three times a week.
Start with light weights and as you get more comfortable, try splitting it into upper and lower body workouts. Doing so gives your body an opportunity to rest and recover.
Work on your form
The most important thing with strength training is having the right form, says Sobkowiak. If you’re not sure if you’re doing it properly, consider hiring a personal trainer who can correct your form and give suggestions to improve your workout. If someone has comorbidities such as chronic back pain or shoulder problems, a physical therapist might be a better fit. They can compensate for any special needs and limit the risk of injury. Another option is to take a group class for beginners. “Instructors are typically very welcoming to new faces and they provide different modifications since not everyone will be at the same level.”
Keep track of your progress
You won’t see results overnight, but if you keep at it, the results will show. Lovewell recommends recording your progress, whether it’s taking a video of your workouts or jotting down how much weight and reps you complete each session. Doing so will help you relish the small victories and keep you motivated to continue. “Maybe in the beginning you could only do three pushups and now you can do 10,” says Lovewell. “These are the type of markers we should be celebrating.”
Before you go, check out our slideshow of the best workout recovery products to nurture your sore muscles.
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