While aging is inevitable, aging well is not. There are many factors involved in maintaining good physical and mental health as you age. For instance, eating clean, healthy food not only keeps your body healthy, but certain foods also help your mind stay sharp. Second, it has been shown that staying active and engaged in your every day life – whether it’s work, volunteering, or participating in a group activity of some kind – helps you find a purpose for each day and energy to keep going strong! But one of the most important things to consider as you grow older is exercise. Exercise not only keeps you feeling and looking younger, but actually physically slows down the aging process. And while exercise comes in many forms, strength training is where the true anti-aging magic happens.
As we explore how important strength training is, keep in mind the goal isn’t to throw your cardio out the window. Cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging, or biking, is important for your heart and lung function. In addition, cardio exercise gives you a boost of energy and helps you burn calories. But strength training is just as crucial, and after the age of 50, it becomes more important than ever. According to the MLTJ (Muscle, Ligament and Tendon Journal), the aging process is defined as “changes in muscle mass and strength with decline of muscle strength after the 30th year of life.” That’s the definition of the aging process? Wow! In other words, a decrease in muscle is a huge part of what makes you age. Did it surprise you to learn that we begin to lose muscle mass as young as age 30? The good news is you can beat the odds! Strength training to build and maintain muscle is going to slow down that aging process and make you look and feel younger.
Benefits of Strength Training After 50
In addition to slowing down the overall aging process, strength training after 50 offers several amazing benefits you won’t want to miss out on. According to Tufts University, strength training will reduce the risks and symptoms of several health problems.
Amazing, right? And this is simply a list of things strength training can help avoid. Beyond that, there is so much strength training actually does to keep our bodies healthy as we age. Let’s explore what those are!
1. Builds Muscle Mass
Building mass sounds like you are making yourself bigger or bulking up like a body builder. This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what strength training does. Put it this way: a pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh the same, but a pound of muscle takes up MUCH LESS space than a pound of fat! Those who lift weights and strength train end up with bodies that are more tight and compact and wear smaller clothes. Of course, appearance is likely the least most important part of this benefit. Being stronger means you are able to stay independent and strong for life’s daily activities such as carrying groceries, lifting grandchildren, pushing a lawn mower or engaging in fun things like golf or other sports.
2. Builds Bone Density
Unexpected falls put countless older people in the hospital every year. In fact, according to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older Americans. If you break your arm playing high school football, you’re likely to return to the field in about 8 weeks. If you break a leg while downhill skiing in your 20’s, you’ll be sidelined for a time but most likely back to the slopes sooner than you think. It doesn’t work that way for an older person.
The ramifications of broken bones can be devastating. Strength training helps. First and foremost many studies have shown that strength training increases bone mineral density itself. But beyond that, by strengthening the muscle and connective tissue that surrounds your bones, you are making yourself stronger overall and helping to prevent the fall from happening in the first place. Plus, if you should fall for other reasons, your strong muscles and connective tissue will protect your bones and make a break less likely to happen.
3. Decreases Body Fat
Too much body fat isn’t good for you at any age. Not only is it harder to move when you carry that extra weight around, but maintaining a healthy weight is important when it comes to preventing many of the diseases listed above that come with aging. In addition, body fat is both external and internal. The external is the stuff we see. The internal is the dangerous fat. It surrounds your organs, pumps out unwanted hormones, and increases inflammation in your body. None of this means you should aim for “skinny”. A healthy amount of body fat is both good and necessary. Too much, however, is not. Healthy is the goal.
3. Help Avoid Injuries
Injuries seem to come with more frequency as we age. Weight training strengthens both muscles and connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments for fewer injuries and more living!
4. Speeds Up Your Metabolism
Most people will testify that their metabolism has slowed down with age. You just can’t eat the same things in the same volume as you ate during your 20’s or 30’s. This circles back to the idea that you are likely less active and have also lost some of your muscle. The muscle you put on your body is an active tissue, burning calories all day while fat is just dead weight. So the math is easy: more muscle = higher metabolism. In addition, lifting weights is hard work. Cardio exercise doesn’t own the calorie burning industry! Strength training is a great way to burn calories and fire up your metabolic rate for the day.
5. Improves Mental Health
As you get older, you may go through a lot of changes—death of loved ones, retirement, children moving away, stressful life events, or medical problems. It’s normal to feel uneasy, stressed, or sad about these changes. Lack of self-confidence tends to tag along with as you adjust to the “new normal” in your life. Strength training has been shown to improve your confidence and boost your mood. In addition, clinical depression is not just for younger people. Depression in older adults is on the rise. Harvard Medical School reports that exercise helps lessen the incidence and the degree of clinical depression.
Strength Training Tips Before You Get Started
For just 20-30 minutes a day, just a few days a week, you can change the way your body ages and the way you feel in that body. So are you ready to give it a try? Before you get started you should know that weight training is perfectly safe for those over 50, but make sure you do a few simple things first:
- Check with your doctor before dramatically increasing your exercise regimen or if you have any pre-existing injuries or conditions.
- Make sure your medications are aligned with your exercise program.
- Drink lots of water. If it’s hot, drink more!
- The“No Pain, No Gain” does not apply. If it hurts, stop doing what you’re doing. (Not if it’s hard-if it’s painful!)
- Take plenty of time to warm up. The older you are the more warming up you need.
- Work with a trainer if you have the means. Even just a few sessions can be helpful so that you learn proper form and technique.
To get you started, here are 8 awesome exercises that women over 50 can incorporate into their regular exercise routines. If you don’t have a routine that you use, these moves will do the trick! Why these moves in particular? Not because they are the ONLY moves you can do that will work, but for the following reasons:
1. They cover everything from lower body to upper body to core strength and balance training—all things you definitely want to keep working on as you age!
2. They get the job done quicker. Multi-tasking moves like the Cross Behind Lunge with Lateral Raise tackles shoulders, core, legs and glutes and your heart rate will go up!
3. They are low impact. For instance, the single leg hamstring bridge tackles your rear end and hamstrings without putting pressure on knee or hip joints.
4. Push-ups are a must! You aren’t the only one who doesn’t like them but that doesn’t mean shouldn’t do them. They are EFFECTIVE and they work! These push-ups allow you to be on your knees. If you ever want to lift the knees you are more than welcome!
5. Everyone should do planks. The forearm plank shown below will give you all the benefits of a plank but keep you off your wrists which tend to be sensitive for most older women.
So are you ready? Get yourself a light pair of dumbbells, perhaps 5-8 pounds, and give this routine a try.
8 Strength Training Moves Women Over 50 Should Do
Perform 8-12 repetitions of each of the following moves with 30-60 seconds rest in between. If you feel yourself getting stronger, reach for heavier weights. If you are looking for more strength training ideas with a little guidance and whole lot of fun, try GHU TV’s Definitions program!
Learn how to perform bird dog.