Last Updated January 5, 2024 (originally published May 28, 2019)
It is well established that resistance training offers many important health benefits, including improved health, reduced risk factors for developing a chronic disease and an improved ability to perform activities of daily life. Unfortunately, many adults over the age of 50—including those who are physically active—miss out on these benefits because they mistakenly believe that resistance training with weights is only for the young and fit. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In fact, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, includes the following recommendation:
“Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits. As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.”
A group of researchers set out to determine how following these guidelines affects mortality. They used data from the 1997–2001 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) linked to death certificate data (for study participants) through 2011. According to the data, older adults who performed strength training at least two times per week had 46% lower odds of dying for any reason compared to those who did not participate in strength training. Furthermore, adults in the survey who performed regular strength training had 41% lower odds of cardiac death and an almost 20% lower risk of dying from cancer. Additionally, those who participated in strength training were more likely to have a normal body weight, engage in aerobic exercise and abstain from alcohol and tobacco.
Clearly, if you are looking for a way to improve your health, enhance your quality of life and increase your overall lifespan, you should consider adding more resistance training to your current level of physical activity. And if you’re still unconvinced that strength training is important, here are six reasons why you should reconsider, especially if you are over the age of 50:
There is a difference between training for muscle size (hypertrophy) and training for strength. While performing a high number of repetitions can result in hypertrophy, for adults over the age of 50, the focus should be on improving muscular strength by lifting more weight. Using heavier resistance for fewer repetitions can enhance the strength of a muscle without significantly increasing its size.
Resistance-training machines allow seniors to safely use greater amounts of resistance than free weights might. Strength training is safe for everyone, and machines allow for great benefits with a low risk of injury.
Compound, multijoint exercises such as the leg press, shoulder press, seated row, chest press and lat pull-down can improve muscular coordination by improving the ability of many muscles to work together to generate and control high levels of force through multiple joints.
Resistance training can elevate levels of anabolic, or muscle-building, hormones—specifically testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which help repair muscle fibers damaged during exercise. Regardless of your age, strength training can help your body become more efficient at producing the hormones that help build and repair muscle.
Lifting heavy weights increases the hormone IGF-1, which is related to the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein is responsible for stimulating the growth of new neurons in the brain and enhancing communication between existing pathways. In short, lifting heavy could make you smarter by boosting levels of brain-building chemicals.
Resistance training with heavy weights can improve your self-confidence. Knowing that you can lift heavy stuff gives you the confidence that you can handle everyday challenges, such as placing luggage in the overhead bin on an airplane, moving a heavy piece of furniture or carrying heavy grocery bags.
To reap the greatest benefits from resistance training—at any age—the focus should be on using enough weight to cause fatigue within six to 12 repetitions. Fatigue means the muscles are unable to complete another repetition, and the best results from resistance training occur when exercise is performed to the point of fatigue.
While all exercise provides general health benefits, regular resistance training is one of the quickest ways to achieve the specific benefits identified above. To learn more about resistance training or to get started with a program designed specifically for you, contact an ACE Certified Personal Trainer in your area.
Are you an exercise professional looking to broaden your knowledge of fitness and learn how to effectively work with seniors by helping them move more efficiently? Become an ACE Senior Fitness Specialist and help senior clients lead healthier and happier lives.