Nothing in life comes easy, and we can say the same about aging gracefully. No matter how many antiaging creams and supplements you buy, the real results won’t come if you don’t move.
Exercise is the fountain of youth for aging muscles. That’s why it’s no secret that strength training is one of the best workouts for your body.
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Anyone can train strength and endurance, and experts like Keith Sobkowiak DPT, physical therapist and regional director of the FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, say one of the best times to start is when you’re older. Not only will the loading programs tone you physically, but your body will be in good shape to ward off age-related diseases along with other benefits.
Research shows it can also prevent injuries, strengthen your body and give you a total uplift in mood, adds Emma Lovewell, cycling instructor at Peloton.
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You are never too old to exercise and your strength exercises can be modified to suit what your body can handle. A 20-year-old will have a different regime than a 50-year-old and that’s okay. With enough time and perseverance, strength training can help you reach your best self. The first step is knowing how to get started.
What are the benefits of strength training?
There are many benefits to strength training, but by far the biggest is its effect on your longevity. Resistance training indirectly helps you live longer by making you less susceptible to disease. For example, sports scientists in a 2022 study found that doing 30 to 60 minutes of strength training per week reduced the risk of premature aging, heart disease and cancer by 10 to 20 percent. Taking an hour to lift weights also significantly reduces the risk of diabetes.
Getting fit also trains the most important muscle in the body, the brain. Older adults who have engaged in strength training regularly improve their cognition by delivering more oxygen to the noggin. Additionally, resistance exercises helped delay the breakdown of white matter in the brain, which could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Obviously, cardio workouts reap similar benefits for your health, but there are some gains you can’t get from a weekly walk in the park.
Builds bone strength
The drop in estrogen during menopause accelerates bone loss by up to 20%. This puts older women at high risk of being seriously injured by a fall. Over time, low bone density can make you prone to osteoporosis. Ten million Americans have osteoporosis and 80% are women. The thinning of the bones can lead to fractures of both the extremities and the spine, says Jesse Hochkeppel, MD, an interventional pain management specialist at Connecticut Pain Care, who notes that the latter is a common cause of chronic back pain and disability in his older female patients.
Strength training and weight-bearing exercises help prevent future bone loss and slow the onset of these types of diseases by building muscle that helps improve balance. The more strength you have in your lower limbs and core, the more you can keep upright and avoid having to use a cane or hold onto a railing, explains Sobkowiak.
As we get older, our metabolism begins to slow down and the effect is more pronounced in women. Less estrogen during perimenopause produces less muscle mass, which promotes a slower metabolism.
Resistance exercise increases your metabolism due to the strain it puts on the body. This is because stress on the muscle fibers causes micro-tears. The body sends oxygen and amino acids to heal micro-traumas and remodel muscles to make them more resistant. Muscle repair is a long and energy-consuming process. Without a rest period, your body ramps up its metabolism to burn more calories and keep up with energy demands.
Improve your mental health
Exercise is a great outlet for people to reduce stress. Moving the body releases chemicals called endorphins, which block pain and enhance the sensation of pleasure. It has also been shown to help prevent and treat symptoms of depression in postmenopausal women.
Strength training specifically improves your mental health because it keeps your mind from ruminating. Sobkowiak says you’re so focused on your form, breathing, and rep count that you temporarily escape your stressors.
Tips to get started
There is no single way to start resistance training. You can start by exercising at home with dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls, and bodyweight maneuvers like crunches or pushups, by attending a strength-training class, or by hiring a personal trainer. Resistance training in postmenopausal women should focus primarily on the leg and core muscles, followed by the arms, chest and back, says Hochkeppel. In just two to three 20-minute sessions of light to moderate resistance training per week, women can improve both bone density and muscle mass in 12 weeks.
Regardless of your preferences, keep these three tips in mind.
Pushing yourself beyond what your body is capable of invites more opportunities for injury. Over time, the goal is to increase the weight you’re using or gradually increase your reps. The goal is not to torture us, but to enjoy the process, Lovewell says. To see progress, try strength training two to three times a week.
Start with light weights and as you get more comfortable, try breaking it up into upper and lower body workouts. This way your body has the opportunity to rest and recover.
Work on your form
The most important thing with strength training is getting the form right, says Sobkowiak. If you’re not sure you’re doing it correctly, consider hiring a personal trainer who can correct your form and make suggestions to improve your workout. If someone has comorbidities such as chronic back pain or shoulder problems, a physical therapist may be more suitable. They can compensate for any special needs and limit the risk of injury. Another option is to take a group course for beginners. Instructors are usually very welcoming to new faces and provide several changes as not everyone will be at the same level.
Track your progress
You won’t see results overnight, but if you keep at it, results will show. Lovewell recommends logging your progress, whether it’s recording video of your workouts or noting the weight and reps you complete each session. This will help you savor the small victories and keep you motivated to keep going. Maybe in the beginning you could only do three push-ups and now you can do 10, Lovewell says. These are the kinds of goalscorers we should be celebrating.
Before you go, check out our roundup of the best workout recovery products to feed your sore muscles.
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