The Benefits of Resistance and Strength Training as We Age

Strength training is any type of exercise that involves pulling or lifting against resistance. It should be part of an overall exercise program. Resistance training is beneficial for people of all ages, especially as we get older.

How Exercise is Beneficial as we Age 

Exercise, including strength training, might not be the fountain of youth, but it definitely has benefits that help slow down the aging process. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at the cardiovascular and muscle benefits of older adults that were lifelong exercisers.

The study was conducted at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University and involved three groups of adults. One group consisted of 75-year old’s that participated in structured exercise four to six days a week, including cycling or running. The second group involved 75-year old’s that did not participate in a structured exercise regimen. The third group consisted of 25-year old’s that exercised with the same frequency as the 75-year old participants.

All the participants had their Vo2 max measured while using a stationary bike. The Vo2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen used during exercise. It is an indicator of aerobic endurance. A pea size muscle biopsy was also performed to examine vessels that allow blood flow through the muscle. The results indicated that the 75-year old lifelong exercisers had similar aerobic enzyme activity and muscle fiber activity as younger exercisers.

Even if you have not been a lifelong exerciser, it’s not too late to start. You can still gain several benefits from strength training including:

Improved strength: We naturally lose muscle mass as we age. Studies show that we lose about 3 to 5% of muscle mass per decade after age 30. But by strength training, we can combat that loss.

Increased bone density: As we age, we are also at risk for bone loss. Throughout your life, your body makes new bone and also loses bone. As we grow older, it takes longer to make new bone. The result may be weaker bones. Exercise can help keep your bones strong throughout your life.

Promotes balance: Exercise, such as resistance training, increases stability, which helps improve balance. Better balance decreases your fall risk as you age.

Helps weight management: Resistance training increases muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest, which helps with maintaining a healthy weight.

Types of Strength Training

There are different ways to do strength training. Various methods may work best for different people. Consider the following options:

Dumbbells: Dumbbells are great for resistance training. Dumbbells allow you to transition from one exercise to the next quickly, which can keep your heart rate up.

Weight machines: Weight machines usually require a trip to the gym, unless you have the money and space to buy home machines. But they help instill proper form. Plus, gym staff are a helpful resource if you have any questions.

Resistance bands: Resistance bands are a convenient way to get some strength training in at home or even on the road while you travel.

Body weight exercises: Body weight exercises, such as pushups, do not require any special equipment and still provide some resistance work.

Guidelines and Safety

Incorporating strength training into your exercise regimen is one of the best things you can do for your health. But it’s essential to do it safely to prevent getting hurt. One of the fastest ways to derail your progress and enthusiasm is an injury.

You can perform resistance training safely at any age. But there are several precautions to keep in mind.

  • Warm up by doing a little light cardio to get the blood flowing and your muscles ready.
  • Progress slowly. Add additional resistance a little at a time or increase repetitions by two reps as you gain strength.
  • Use the correct form. If you’re not sure how to perform a certain exercise, get help.  
  • Allow rest time of at least a day or two in between resistance training that works the same muscles.
  • Pay attention to injuries, and don’t overdo it.
  • If you feel sudden pain when doing an exercise, stop immediately.