Research demonstrates that pumping iron and strength training may decrease cardiovascular risk and premature death for older adults.
Perhaps you used to lift weights. Maybe you routinely tested your resolve hoisting some heavy iron with barbells and dumbbells. But you think that those days are now behind you and your focus has shifted to only aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging or biking.
You may think that is all you need to stay fit now and in the future. Not so!
Many people stop participating in strength or resistance training as they get older, but it’s clear that whether a person is 18 or 80, both cardio and strengthening exercise should be part of their routine.
Beyond the immediate benefits like improved body shape, research now demonstrates that not just aerobic exercise but strength training with a reduced risk of death from all causes.
Current data shows that the vast majority of older adults don’t meet recommendations from the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine to do strength training at least two days a week.
Benefits of strength training
They are missing out on way more than improved muscle definition, although you can see those kinds of results, even at an advanced age. The evidence is available that shows that 80-year-olds are just as able to improve their muscle mass as 50-year-olds. This can be done reliably over a very short period of time – as short as 2-3 months.
Strength training can help prevent age-related muscle and bone loss. Research has helped broaden the understanding of the impact building muscle may have for an older person’s health and life. For example, over a 15-year period, those that reported meeting guidelines of at least 2 days a week strength training had 46% lower odds of dying from any cause, or all-cause mortality.
Researchers also found that those individuals were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Other research shows that strength training is associated with a lower risk of death for a vulnerable population – individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
Building muscle is associated with better blood sugar regulation – helping clear excess glucose – which can lower the risk of developing diabetes. Muscles have insulin receptors to which the hormone insulin (which regulated glucose levels) binds. Engaging in resistance exercise causes greater proliferation of these receptors. This is a good thing because more insulin can bind to them and more glucose can enter the muscle and be utilized as fuel.
So when it comes to pumping iron, it’s not only about decreasing mortality risk, but improving functionality is very important. This will enable an older person to play with their grandchildren or go to the grocery store on their own; basically making them more independent.
Whatever you do, the key is to get started and incorporate resistance training into your workout if you’re not already.
Getting started key points:
a. Make sure to ease into any new workout, especially if you’ve been out of the game for a while.
b. Older adults should consult with their physicians before starting a new exercise regimen to make sure it’s safe to do so.
c. Make sure the older person speaks with a professional to design a program specifically around them.
d. Ditch the idea that you need to lift really heavy weights. Focus on quality over quantity.
e. Progress gradually, and don’t increase frequency, intensity and duration of exercise all at once.
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Dr. Paul Henning
PhD, CSCS, CISSN
U.S. News & World Report