As we age, our bodies experience a multitude of changes, including a reduction of muscle mass (3% to 8% per decade after 30), a rise in fat mass, increased risk of injury, and loss of independence, according to research in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. These changes tend to be accompanied by osteopenia, or low bone density, and increased joint stiffness.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Adding weight training into your daily wellness and exercise regimen can help you combat the effects of aging and age-related muscle loss.
Below, we’ll equip you with more information about the positive effects resistance training has on the aging process, plus we’ll share suggestions to help you compose a plan and get started.
The Positive Effects of Weight Training as We Age
Increased Bone Density
Many tend to associate lifting weights with building toned, aesthetically pleasing muscles, but the impact of weightlifting extends far beyond that. Indeed, weightlifting is known to increase bone density and fight conditions such as osteoporosis and bone injuries. Similar to how muscle tissue responds to weight-bearing activities, bones also become stronger and denser as a person engages in weight training. Weightlifting involves applying pressure to bones by way of muscles and tendons, which stimulates them to produce more tissue. As the quantity of bone tissue increases, the strength and density of the bone also improve, aiding in the prevention of injuries such as fractures.
Reduced Body Fat and Improved Metabolic Activity
Aging is often associated with a sluggish metabolism and weight gain, and these changes can be attributed to a multitude of factors, such as fluctuations in hormones or genetics. For instance, men over 30 tend to experience a 1% reduction in testosterone each year, and women experience a decrease in estrogen, causing an undesirable redistribution of fat.
But weight training will increase lean mass and boost your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns at rest). Also, it will help normalize blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and other hormones associated with metabolism, says Dr. Rawls, M.D., medical director of Vital Plan.
It is estimated that 28% of adults age 65 or older experience one fall or more each year, suggests a study in Age and Ageing. Though balance issues can result from nervous system dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, or visual impairments, increasing lean muscle mass through weight training whenever possible can have a positive impact on helping you stay upright.
As you strengthen your muscles, you’ll have more control over the muscle groups needed to maintain balance, such as those that make up your core (abs, back, pelvic floor, and glutes), helping to prevent a fatal fall or serious injury, especially if you have low bone density.
Enhanced Cardiovascular Health
The risk of cardiovascular disease significantly increases as we age, but contrary to popular belief, weight training has been shown to enhance heart health and act as a cardioprotective — maybe even better than aerobic activities.
Though both aerobic exercise and weightlifting have been found to reduce fat linked to heart disease, weight training was more likely to reduce a specific type of harmful cardiac fat called pericardial adipose tissue, according to a study in JAMA Cardiology. Researchers suspect these results may be attributed to the fact that resistance training increases muscle mass and basal metabolic rate, making it easier to burn fat — another great reason to start resistance training!
4 Ways to Implement a Weight Training Program
Implementing a weight training regimen will pay significant dividends as you age, but creating a plan on your own can be pretty difficult. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Find a Few Movements to Connect With.
It can be easy to find a list of exercises on the internet, but that doesn’t necessarily set you up for success. As you begin to integrate weightlifting into your daily fitness plan, it’s imperative that you associate your muscles with the movements to facilitate a mind-muscle connection — instead of just going through the motions. Try keeping in mind the muscle you would like to target, and pay close attention to whether or not you truly feel it contracting. If you can’t connect with it, you may find it helpful to search for alternate exercises instead.
2. Focus on Form.
Resistance training is only beneficial if you ensure your safety when doing it. Once you decide which movements you connect with, studying the proper form for each exercise is crucial to avoid the unintentional activation of another muscle or injuring yourself. To gain more clarity on form, conduct a quick online search, where you’ll find several demonstrational videos and suggestions on how to perform each exercise. If your budget allows, consider doing a few sessions with a personal trainer to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly.
As you focus on form, you’ll notice that your muscles continue to gain strength simply by making sure they’re activated in the right way.
3. Select 4 Movements Per Muscle Group
When implementing a new workout plan or healthy diet, many people go a little overboard and think they need to do more. But the truth is, the saying “less is more” applies to weight training. To avoid overtraining, select four exercises per muscle group; you’ll still be able to strengthen your muscles effectively. Below are four examples of weight training exercises for various parts of the body:
- Biceps: dumbbell hammer curls, EZ-bar curls, reverse barbell curls, or overhead cable curls
- Triceps: skull crushers, tricep extensions, tricep pulldowns, tricep dips, or overhead tricep extensions
- Quadriceps: squats, split squats, leg extensions, or step-ups
- Deltoids: shoulder press, lateral raises, front raises, or reverse flyes
4. Determine the Location of Your Workouts
Whether you work out at home or go to the gym, weightlifting can take place almost anywhere with the right supplies. Decide which location works best for you and equip yourself with a variety of weights that are challenging but not too heavy to prevent potential injury.
Having a wide array of weights, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands, will allow for progressive overload, or increasing the weight, frequency, and number of repetitions of each lift, further strengthening your muscles and conditioning your cardiovascular and metabolic systems.
Creating The Right Plan For You
Making weightlifting a regular part of your exercise regimen is one of the best healthy aging tools available to build lean muscle mass, maintain balance, and keep your metabolism humming. To create a sustainable fitness plan, it’s important to work up slowly to higher levels of activity, says Dr. Rawls. “Exceeding the limits of your physical fitness can lead to injury and set you back.”
For a balanced approach, Dr. Rawls recommends creating a plan that incorporates both aerobic activities, such as jogging or walking, and weightlifting. Finally, optimize your results by combining your exercise program with plenty of sleep to allow your muscles to recover and nourish your body with whole foods. As your body ages, it will continue to thank you for taking these healthy steps by allowing you to live a more fruitful life.
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