Strength Training for Seniors: Why Lifting is Key to Longevity
While retirement may seem like a great time to relax and wind down, did you know the exact opposite may be much more beneficial for you if you’re a senior? It turns out that the benefits of strength training for seniors are vast, and if you’re not including some resistance work in your workout routine, then you are certainly missing out when it comes to aging gracefully!
What is Strength Training?
There are many kinds of training you can take part in; however, it’s important that regardless of the other forms of training and activities you enjoy, strength training should be at the forefront of your exercise priorities.
Strength training differs from cardiovascular training. One involves aerobic training, whereas, the other involves working and strengthening your muscles. According to Wikipedia, strength training is “…a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction which builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles.”
What are the Benefits of Strength Training for Seniors
As we age, if we aren’t diligent about preventing it, we tend to lose a great deal of muscle mass. When that’s coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle, we’re more likely to gain weight, which is typically body fat and not muscle mass. That’s why resistance training is an essential part of your routine. There are many benefits to weight training, but the benefits of strength training for seniors are even more potent.
1. Maintaining Bone Density
Getting older can mean bone loss. Obviously, being frail is not a desirable state of being. Maintaining bone strength will help you avoid falls, and if you do happen to experience such a mishap, if your bones are strong, you are much more likely to come away from the situation without a fracture.
Strong bones are also important for everyday functions. Being able to live autonomously by carrying your own groceries, bending, lifting, and twisting without pain or worry, and moving about freely are very important. Feeling strong enough to perform your everyday activities on your own will leave you feeling confident and secure, knowing you won’t be dependent on others.
2. Improve Functional Movement
As you age, you may notice the tendency to be able to do less and less on your own. But, things don’t have to be that way. If you can learn to strengthen your muscles through resistance training, and you can apply that training in a way that mimics the movements you make on a daily basis and that mirrors the activities you enjoy, you will be better able to continue a normal lifestyle as you age.
3. Increase Testosterone Levels
As you age, testosterone levels can decline. Contrary to popular belief, both men and women have testosterone. Believe it or not, testosterone plays a large part in maintaining your long-term health, and keeping levels high is important. If testosterone is too low, not only does it affect sex drive, but you can experience reduced energy as well as increased depression, aggression, and other mood disorders, along with an increased loss of muscle mass. One of the ways you can keep those testosterone levels high is by adding regular resistance training to your regimen.
4. Manage Health Conditions
One of the biggest benefits of strength training for seniors is quite basic: being in better shape can automatically help you manage your health. Keeping your body fat lower and your percentage of muscle mass higher can help you avoid or minimize the side effects of various common ailments people tend to experience as they age.
How to Get Started With Weight Training
Just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean you need to necessarily exercise that much differently than anybody else. As at any age, if you are a beginner, it’s important to take things slowly, learn proper form, and gradually increase the amount of weight you use.
If you’ve been resistance training for years, then continuing that type of training and enhancing it by making sure you’re always progressing (making the repetitions slower, lifting more weight, or increasing the number of reps) will help you continue to progress over time.
If you’re just beginning to incorporate strength training for seniors into your exercise regimen, there are a few things you should know.
- It must be consistent. You won’t get the results you’re looking for unless you make strength training a regular part of your life. Aim for 3 – 5 training days per week for optimal growth.
- It must be progressive. Lifting the same weight in the same way will never allow you to move forward. To build and strengthen your muscles, you have to continually challenge them by mixing it up. Change your exercises, repetitions, the weight you use, your pace, or the length of your rest periods in-between sets for continual growth.
- Eat according to your goals. It’s not helpful to go to all the effort of building muscles and strengthening your body if you’re not going to give it the fuel it needs to recover, replenish, and build lean muscle tissue. That means your nutrition should support a lifestyle that includes resistance training: plenty of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of veggies. Protein is an especially important facet of your diet because it provides the building blocks necessary for muscle repair and growth. Aim to include protein with every meal as well as in your snack selections.
What Types of Strength Training Should You Try if You’re a Senior
Again, if you’re new to exercise, starting slowly is paramount. You may want to consider hiring a trainer to show you around and get you started with the basics until you become more accustomed to resistance training, the exercises involved, and proper form.
These can typically be done in the privacy of your own home with little to no equipment. There are many tutorials and bodyweight exercise programs online. Most of these will include exercises like body squats, some form of pushups, planks, possibly pullups, dips, and certainly several types of core exercises. This type of resistance training is a wonderful way to get started with strength training and requires no commute and no (or very little) financial investment.
This type of training is typically performed at a fitness center and involves using a series of machines in rapid succession that work both your muscles and your cardiovascular system simultaneously. This type of workout generally works the entire body in one session and is performed 2 – 3 times per week.
Typically done at a gym, you can split the body into parts, for example, upper body one day and lower the next, or work specific body parts on specific days, i.e., back and biceps on one day, chest and triceps on another day, legs by themselves, or whatever type of split works best for you.
Whatever form of strength training you choose, again, ensure you are doing the exercises correctly and that you maintain consistency with your workout regimen to achieve the desired results.