Better bone density, muscle mass, and strength, balance, cognitive function, are just a few of the benefits of strength training for seniors.
Instead of being afraid of lifting weights, you should learn how to do it safely and effectively so that you can get all the benefits that I’ll list below, in detail.
Better bone density
Strength training builds and maintains bone density even as we get older. This is particularly important for post-menopausal women in addition to men over the age of 65.
The most important factor here is making sure that the load that you are lifting is heavy enough and placing enough stress through the bones to stimulate a change.
Walking is a load-bearing exercise and will help to maintain lower body and spinal bone density, but adding in weight training will just add to that and you’ll be able to better maintain bone density in your upper body as well.
Less Hunching Over
I can’t tell you how many of my older clients tell me “I don’t want to be hunched over like my mom.”
The good news is that this is not an inevitable thing. You can maintain your upright posture, however, it’s going to take some work.
Lifting 2x/week, starting with light weight and progressing to heavier weight is the best way to accomplish this. I’ve written other articles about the best types of exercises for seniors that you can read by just clicking or tapping that link.
Bigger and Stronger Muscles
The clearest benefit of lifting weights is bigger and stronger muscles.
You want bigger and stronger muscles, trust me.
If you want to be able to get up from the floor, walk around the grocery store, walk up hills, get in and out of the shower, up and down off the toilet, travel, or anything else, you need strength training.
Some of my clients, and you might be in this camp, say “I don’t want my muscle to get too big.”
While I understand the aversion to “getting bulky,” I can confidently say that there is a 0% that this will happen to you.
In order to gain that amount of muscle mass that you consider bulky, that would likely take years of dedicated training, optimum nutritional habits, and great sleep.
Now, you’ll still build muscle, no doubt, and you’ll get stronger, but it will likely be much more subtle than looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To notice a change in strength it takes 3-4 weeks to notice this. This is usually from the nervous system getting more efficient at the exercises.
From 6 weeks onwards, you will start to build muscle. It won’t be very noticeable until about month 6 though, for most people.
Setting those proper expectations from the get-go is important.
So this is an important one. Strength training prevents falls.
Why do older adults fall due to decreased strength?
I’m glad you asked.
As we get older, our muscle mass decreases, and our muscle fibers change.
We have slow twitch muscle fibers which are primarily responsible for slower movements and endurance activities like walking.
We also have fast twitch fibers which are utilized in more powerful quick motions such as standing up from a chair, getting up from the floor, running, or lifting something heavy.
As we age, the size of our slow twitch and fast twitch fibers shrink.
But, the reason we get slower is that the number of our fast twitch fibers actually converts to more slow twitch fibers.
We quite literally lose our ability to move quickly because we don’t have enough of those muscle fibers anymore. There are other reasons this happens, too, but I’ll get into that in another article.
If we can’t move quickly, we can’t catch ourselves when we trip.
If we can’t catch ourselves when we trip, we fall.
If we fall, well, you know the rest of the story. Usually, there’s a fracture involved, and if you’re lucky there won’t be.
Unfortunately, if you’ve fallen in the past year, are afraid of falling, or feel unsteady on your feet, you’re at a higher risk of falling.
What does strength training do to prevent falls?
Resistance training increases the size of your muscle fibers and it also prevents and increases the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers that you have.
Since you will then have more fast twitch fibers this will allow you to move faster.
Since you can move faster, you will be able to catch yourself when you trip.
Since you’re able to catch yourself when you trip, you won’t fall.
And finally, if you don’t fall, you won’t break anything.
This just leads to a better life overall where you can stay independent for the rest of your life as we’ll discuss later on.
Lowers Your Dementia and Alzheimers Risk
There is newer research that shows that strength training reduces your risk of dementia and Alzheimers.
There is nothing that can fully prevent this from happening, but strength training is a pretty surefire way to give you the best chance possible.
I’ll link to the studies below.
Protects Your Heart
Strength training also trains the heart, because the heart is a muscle after all.
As you are lifting progressively heavier weights, you’ll notice that you get a bit breathless during this. Your muscles are working hard and they require more oxygen.
That oxygen is delivered by the blood and that blood needs to be pumped by the heart.
The heart has to in turn pump harder and more frequently in order to deliver oxygen to the working muscles and provide it with nutrients.
By making your heart work harder, you are strengthening it and keeping it healthier, longer.
Aerobic activity and resistance training both help to prevent diabetes.
They do this by taking glucose out of the bloodstream more effectively.
As you exercise, your cells get more receptive to glucose as the demand of the muscles increases.
Instead of having to rely on ever-increasing levels of insulin to bring glucose into the cell, strength training does it on its own.
Strength training is one of the best ways to not only prevent diabetes but manage diabetes if you already have it.
You Look Better
This is just a given. If you start strength training, you’ll notice that your skin will likely start to get a bit tighter around your arms, legs, back and belly as your muscles grow.
To notice these types of changes can usually take 6 months to a year.
I think it’s perfectly alright to want to look a certain way and feel good about the way we look no matter what our age.
This comes with a caveat that if your entire image is with how you look so you can appear a certain way to others, this can become unhealthy.
I certainly want to look a certain way for my spouse, but I also want to look a certain way for myself as I know it tells me a lot about my overall habits.
Numerous studies have shown that strength training and general exercise improve mood.
If you have generalized anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition, regular exercise can be a mood booster as well as have a neutralizing effect.
Helps you Maintain Independence for as long as your alive
If you don’t strength train and maintain your physical activity levels, it’s very likely that you will at some point become dependent on others for your basic daily needs.
This is not to sound alarmist, but if you lose muscle mass at a rapid rate and don’t work to replace it, it’s only a matter of time before you are unable to get up from the floor or get up off the toilet.
This restricts travel and eventually turns into difficulty even going to the grocery store.
This is going to be inevitable with certain health conditions that come up, but with many older adults, it doesn’t have to be that way.
As this study shows, even if you are 90 years old, you can increase your strength by 175% and gain 15% more muscle mass with a resistance training program.
That’s pretty cool.
You will Live Longer
Want to be around for your grandkids for a bit longer and maybe even for your great-grandkids?
Strength training will give you the best chance at doing just that.
When I’m 100, I want my grandkids to wonder how the heck I’m still so strong.