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Sharp Health News

Importance of strength training as we age

April 8, 2021

Woman lifting weights at a gym with a mask on.
Staying physically active is critical to slowing the aging process and staying healthy, according to Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare.

“Regular cardio exercise is often thought to be the best way to protect from the effects of aging,” she says.

When performed regularly, 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio activity at least 5 days per week can improve heart health, help control blood sugar and cholesterol, and reduce body fat through calories burned.

In addition, endurance exercise helps to boost mood and improve brain functioning and memory.

“And while cardio training offers incredible benefits, it is not the only form of exercise you need to engage in as you get older,” says Hays.

The loss of muscle tissue due to aging, also known as sarcopenia, can be problematic for older adults. After middle age, people lose between 3% and 5% of their muscle mass per decade, which affects their ability to perform many routine activities and lead an independent lifestyle. So it is imperative to maintain muscle mass throughout life.

“Simply doing aerobic exercises, such as walking or biking, is not enough to preserve muscle tone,” says Hays. “Fortunately, you can prevent or even reverse muscle loss with regular strength training.”

Strength training — also called resistance training and weightlifting — simply means using your own body weight or various tools, such as dumbbells, barbells or resistance bands, for resistance to build muscle, strength and endurance.

Strength training can help:
  • Maintain muscle tissue and strength
  • Contribute to better balance and coordination, and reduce the risk of falls
  • Preserve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Improve sleep and reduce depression
In addition, strength training can help with fat loss. Not only do people burn calories during resistance training, but they also burn calories after their workout and while resting. This is due to the “after-burn effect,” which refers to the elevation in metabolism (rate that calories are burned) after an exercise session is completed.

“Since strength training is critical as you age, it is important to incorporate it into your exercise regimen at least 2 nonconsecutive days per week,” explains Hays.

Hays suggests the following 5 tips to begin a strength training routine:
  1. A popular weightlifting practice is to train the upper body on the first day and the lower body on the second day. Upper body training may include working the chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Lower body training may include working the legs, glutes and abs.
  2. When picking a weight level, chose a weight that can be lifted at least 10 to 15 times in 1 set. Begin with 1 or 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
  3. Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.
  4. Progress gradually by adding more sets and more reps, or increasing the weights every few weeks.
  5. To improve flexibility, make sure to stretch after weight-lifting sessions.
“If you are a beginner, it may be a good idea to work with a personal trainer to learn how to lift weights properly,” says Hays. “If this is not an option, there are many dependable YouTube fitness channels to help you on your strength training journey. Just make sure to do your research.”

She adds, “Staying physically active is imperative for our vitality and health. In addition to cardio exercises, you need to include regular strength training into your workout routine. Strength training preserves and enhances your muscle mass, and supports mobility and function, so we can stay active and independent.”

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