13 August 2019Eight Benefits of Strength Training - It's Never Too Late to Start

I grew up in the era of Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg as slender tennis players and Magic Johnson as a tall lanky basketball player. Lifting weights was not what the stars did and not what I focused on as a high school and college tennis player.

Times have definitely changed as we watch the likes of tennis player, Serena Williams and basketball player, LeBron James. Strong physiques mean hours spent in a weight room under the watchful eye of a personal trainer. Even though at age 50 my goal is not to look like athletes of today, I do want to reap the benefits of strength training.

Current Research: What have we learned?

The physical consequences of aging are not inevitable! We used to think that the gradual loss of muscle mass after one reaches the age of 30 was just one of the unavoidable effects of aging. Yes, it is true that physically inactive people can lose from 3-5% of muscle mass every 10 years! However, physically active people, through strength training, can actually build muscle tissue as they age.

Many fitness-minded adults know the benefits of cardiovascular training and try to increase their heart rate at least three days a week by biking, walking or running. However, many of these same people do not appreciate the positive effects of strength training and its effect on building muscle mass and increasing bone density.

Benefits of Strength Training:

  • Improves posture by strengthening muscles in the abdomen, lower back and shoulders
  • Increases bone density and lowers risk of osteoporosis and fractures
  • Increases muscle mass
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves mood
  • Improves recovery after surgery
  • Decreases percentage of body fat
  • Decreases the symptoms of arthritis and back pain

Guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend that adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week. They advise to work all major muscle groups including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

How to begin:

  1. Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  2. Hire a personal trainer who has expertise in resistance training for your age category and can tailor your plan to your strength and fitness level. A personal trainer can help reduce injury risk by teaching proper form. A personal trainer can also create a weight-lifting circuit for you which trains your whole body.
  3. Start slowly. My personal trainer told me: "Your muscles are strong enough to lift heavier weights; however, your joints and ligaments are not. Start slowly and increase weights gradually as you become more comfortable performing the exercise. Prioritize form over load to prevent injury."
  4. Listen to your body. You shouldn't experience pain while lifting weights. However, it is normal to feel sore the next day because you are building new muscle tissue.
  5. Hydrate! Drink water throughout your training session and afterwards.
  6. Create a Buddy System. Find a "buddy" to strength train with you for accountability and encouragement. My buddy and I chose to pursue the "wake up and work out" strength training routine. On the fourth day of lifting, I was tired, cranky, and hadn't slept well. However, my lifting buddy was expecting me there so off to the gym I went. Once I was there, I enjoyed talking to my buddy and lifting weights, and I even felt better afterwards.
  7. Stretch, Stretch, Stretch! After strength training, remember to stretch those muscles while your body is still warm to decrease soreness and prevent injury.

How does muscle building help with weight loss?

Muscle tissue is an efficient calorie-burner! When you perform resistance exercise, you are increasing and maintaining the percentage of muscle in your body. This means that even when you are at rest (sleeping) or sitting at the computer, you will burn more calories than you did before strength training. Burning more calories helps with weight loss.

Knowing the eight benefits of strength training has continued to keep me motivated as I learn the new skill of strength training. Start your routine today! In addition, if we need to talk about vanity at age 50, it does feel great to see some definition in my normally flabby arms. The physical consequences of aging are not inevitable!

Martha M. Henze, MPH, MS, RDN

Martha recently completed her Masters of Public Health (MPH) in global epidemiology and aims to help people improve their health on a population basis around the world.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

Tags:

Exercise/Weight resistance

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