For most people, age is a time of reflection. We look back and fit moments into a larger scheme about our lives. We evaluate the decisions we have made, ponder how we could have done things differently, and wonder about what it all has added up to. Whether it’s seeking improved relationships, good nutrition, or a more relaxed state of being, there’s a reason for the old trope that aging comes with wisdom.
When you ask many people about what’s important when aging, a common reply is staying active. Presumably, if we can keep moving, we will feel less like our age is holding us down. We will feel more like we can be active participants in our lives and construct them in ways that continue to bring us joy.
Sadly, however, the reality is much different. Most people get way less activity than they should or even hope to. And although any activity is good, it matters a lot the type of activity we choose. Cardiovascular exercise, for instance, helps maintain the strength of our heart and lungs, staving off heart disease. As another example, yoga helps maintain flexibility and can also help mitigate stress.
Strength Training Benefits
When we’re talking about two of the biggest challenges of aging, decreased metabolism and weight gain, and an increased chance of injury, resistance, and weight training is hard to beat. Below are just a few of the benefits of strength training for the aging population.
1. Grow Muscle Mass
Strength training is intended to target specific muscle groups through the use of resistance. For example, leg extensions are intended to build quadricep muscles, whereas shoulder raises are intended to build our deltoid muscles. The benefit of this is that we can specifically target weak areas.
One of the most common problems that both seniors and younger people complain about is back pain. Back pain is often related to an imbalance in muscles. For example, our abdominal muscles may be too weak to maintain correct posture, which leads to back pain. Similarly, if we have one leg that is dominant, the tension in the hip flexor muscle can cause an imbalance in our hips, which also can lead to back pain.
Aside from correcting the muscular imbalances that lead to pain, the benefits of a comprehensive strength training program will build overall muscle mass, which plays a central role in our metabolism. Because muscle burns significantly more calories than fat, the more muscle we have on our body, the higher our metabolism will be. The result is that we become leaner, stronger, and less prone to injury.
2. Increase Bone Density
Loss in muscle density is a primary contributor to osteoporosis. As we become less active, we place less stress on our bones and less bone remodeling occurs. Bone remodeling is a very important process as we age because to keep bones from becoming brittle and prone to fracture, we have to be able to remodel them.
The process of strengthening bone is dependent on resistance. Essentially when a load is placed on the bones, the body responds through remodeling the bones stronger, and more able to withstand the resistance against them. While activities like walking do place some resistance against the bones of the legs, back, and hips, areas like the shoulders, which are a common fracture injury associated with falls, are not strengthened through walking.
Yet when we strength train, we utilize all of our muscles – from arms and legs to calves and deltoids – and the result is that all of our bones become stronger and better able to stave off the effects of age.
3. Build Mental Fortitude
Balance, strength, and coordination change with age, and one result is that we begin to doubt ourselves. What used to be easy may not be anymore. We may feel less able to do the things we used to be able to do. And we may be less likely to take on challenges.
Aging itself is a challenge, and aging well is an even bigger challenge. We are going to have to do the things that intimidate us, make us question ourselves, even scare us. We are going to have to get out of our comfort zone. Because what we may realize is that we don’t have time to ponder what could have been. We have right now, and there is no guarantee about tomorrow.
So, we are going to have to be strong. We are going to have to lift some weights, and not just the ones in the gym. We are going to have to break a sweat. Breaking a sweat physically is a great start because once we realize we can and do become stronger, everything in life looks so much more possible – even chasing those things on the bucket list.
Have you seen strength training benefits in your exercise routine? Please leave a comment below.