The benefits to aging adults of strength building have been widely documented. As we age, we lose lean muscle mass and body fat naturally increases unless we do something to replace it. Strength training exercises can help us avoid muscle loss and maintain or increase muscle mass. It also provides a number of other benefits, as discussed below.
What is strength training? “Strength training (also known as resistance training) is different than aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, or walking. Weightlifting, either with machines or free weights, is one type of resistance training. Other types include using medicine balls or resistance bands, or body weight-bearing exercises, such as pushups, squats, or yoga. Resistance training requires our muscles to contract to lift a heavy object against the pull of gravity.”
Regular strength training not only builds muscle, it “… can also reduce the signs and symptoms of many diseases and chronic conditions in the following ways:
- Arthritis—Reduces pain and stiffness, and increases strength and flexibility.
- Diabetes—Improves glycemic control.
- Osteoporosis—Builds bone density and reduces risk for falls.
- Heart disease—Reduces cardiovascular risk by improving lipid profile and overall fitness.
- Obesity—Increases metabolism, which helps burn more calories and helps with long-term weight control.
- Back pain—Strengthens back and abdominal muscles to reduce stress on the spine.”
The combination of aerobic exercise with regular strength training has been shown to improve mental and emotional health and a person’s ability to sleep. “Strength training exercises can also reduce depression and boost self-confidence and self-esteem, and improve [a person’s] sense of well-being.” “By strengthening the muscles in the legs, hips and core, older adults can improve their ability to maintain balance and stability [and reduce the risk of falls].” “Some research suggests that regular strength training and aerobic exercise may help improve thinking and learning skills for older adults.”
Even if you have not previously engaged in strength training, you can reap the benefits by starting now, regardless of age or present level of fitness. If you are just beginning or have an existing chronic condition, you should first consult your primary medical care team for guidance. It is important to follow their directions.