Many of you already know that strength training is one of my favorite forms of exercise, but there are still so many of myths around it. For example, no, you won’t look bulky or like a bodybuilder after you start to make this part of your weekly routine, and it’s not only for men who want to build massive muscles. Another myth that persists is that it’s too late to start strength training among older adults who haven’t done so before. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
In reality, strength training may be more important than ever as people reach their upper decades. As noted in a 2019 article in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “current research has demonstrated that countering muscle disuse through resistance training is a powerful intervention to combat the loss of muscle strength and muscle mass, physiological vulnerability, and their debilitating consequences on physical functioning, mobility, independence, chronic disease management, psychological well-being, quality of life, and healthy life expectancy” for older adults. This is true whether or not a senior is coping with a chronic illness, since muscle loss naturally starts at a gradual pace at 30 years old but accelerates once a person hits age 60.Strength training may be more important than ever as people reach their upper decades, since muscle loss starts gradually at 30 years old but accelerates once a person hits age 60. Click To Tweet
The Benefits of Strength Training
Exercise in general has countless health benefits: It’s been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women of any age or weight, to give as much of a mood boost as prescribed antidepressants, to enhance mental health and focus, and possibly even to foster a healthier microbiome. But strength training in particular has been shown to have the biggest impact on improving mood, as researchers found in a comprehensive review of dozens of studies—and that boost can occur with as little as 10 minutes of work. That’s a pretty remarkable return on investment.
In addition to burning calories in the moment, strength training allows us to continue to burn calories at a faster rate long after the workout ends—exercise increases your metabolism for up to 17 hours! Physical activity can even positively affect food choices: A study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Obesity, which involved 2,680 adults who were not exercising regularly or dieting, found that “after exercising for several weeks, formerly sedentary study participants were more likely to choose foods like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables,” while they tended to reduce their consumption of fried foods, sodas, and other unhealthy options. This occurred even though the participants were not asked to change their diets in any fashion; these changes occurred naturally. Previous research caused the scientists to theorize that this reduced desire for high-fat foods may be due to the changes in dopamine levels associated with exercise—in other words, a huge win-win.
And, if vanity is your main motivator, there’s no shame in that—whatever gets us exercising is a good thing. Strength training firms and tones the body, giving us a more fit, compact look; helps us shed inches (since muscle is leaner tissue than fat); and may even help our skin maintain a more youthful appearance as we age, according to studies performed at Ontario, Canada’s McMaster University on both mice and humans. Yes, we all want to become healthier on the inside, but looking better can help us feel better, too.
Strength Training Exercises for Seniors
There is a plethora of strength training exercises seniors can do—without needing any fancy equipment, a gym membership, or even a bunch of space. Simple at-home strength training moves are also a great choice in the times of COVID-19, when seniors might want to limit their exposure to other people. You can choose to incorporate small weights, but you can also complete a great workout using just your body weight.
To get inspired with specific moves, try my Beginning Circuit Training Routine (also available in video form if you’d like a visual to follow) or a whole-body workout video. If you’re a total beginner, even a 10-minute at-home workout can be a great start, or try these simple exercises to improve your coordination, balance, and strength at any age.
Overall, I recommend committing to two 30- to 45-minute strength-training sessions each week. You can work your entire body at each session, or you can split up your efforts, doing one for the lower body (legs, lower back, and abs), with the other focusing on the upper body (chest, arms, and upper back). It’s also a great idea to incorporate compound strength-training moves, which work multiple muscle groups at one time (some examples of this are lunges and squats—both simple yet highly effective).
Finally, if you’re just starting out with strength training, don’t forget to work safely: Stay hydrated. If you’re a beginner, start small and pace yourself. After your workout session, care for your body and encourage muscle repair and recovery by consuming protein. And, most importantly, don’t forget to have fun in the process! With some practice, you’ll find that exercise becomes a necessary non-negotiable in your weekly routine—a must-have to maintain both physical and mental health at any age.
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