4 Reasons to Strength Train as You Age

4 Reasons to Strength Train as You Age

Regular exercise is vital to health at any age, but especially as we get older—and become more prone to joint and muscle stiffness, and orthopedic injuries. Learn how an exercise program, with both strength and cardio components, can keep you younger longer, from Phil Hardesty, Exercise Physiologist with Ornish Lifestyle Medicine.

Often, when people think of exercise, the first thing that comes to mind is aerobic training such as walking, swimming or cycling. While cardiovascular training is linked to better health and longevity, more recent research has shown the benefits of strength training, beyond the typical result of improving muscle mass.

To maximize your fitness program, strength training should be equally important to aerobic training. The two exercise routines benefit one another; the end result will be a more balanced approach to fitness.

Here are the top four reasons you should incorporate strength training into your fitness plan:

1. You’ll maintain muscle mass and strength
As we reach our mid to late twenties, we begin to slowly lose muscle mass. Research shows that the rate of muscle loss increases significantly when we enter our sixties. While strength training doesn’t stop muscle loss as we age, it can help slow the process. Plus, because strength training helps maintain muscle mass, it can enhance the rest of your fitness routine. Having stronger muscles will allow you to become a stronger cyclist, swimmer walker or runner.

2. You don’t have to dedicate much time
Strength training can be done in a relatively short period of time per session and provide significant benefit. Studies show that only two days per week for 15 to 20 minutes per session can provide enough muscle stimulation to improve strength and balance in adult men and women. You don’t have to lift heavy loads that increase the risk of injury or overuse either. As long as you exercise the major muscle groups several times per week and increase weight over time, you’ll see results. In fact, most people can feel (and see) the benefits with only six to ten exercise sessions.

3. You’ll reduce your risk of injuries and fatigue
Our joints play a key role as our bones and muscles work together to support and move our bodies. As we age, however, joints can become weak, stiff and sore. Weak joints are more vulnerable to injury from falls, twists or even lifting groceries. Muscular weakness is also linked with deficiencies in balance, which can lead to injuries related to falls. Strength training will provide significant protection from injuries by improving balance and movement.

4. You’ll counteract the effects of weight loss
To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by burning calories with exercise, consuming fewer calories or, preferably, by doing both. But as a person loses weight, they can experience loss of muscle mass, as well. It’s important to balance weight loss, especially losing large amounts of weight quickly, with strength training to maintain muscle. If you have lost weight, especially significant amounts of weight, strength training may help prevent weakness and reshape your body by adding firm muscle.

Remember: a healthy diet and quality sleep are key components of a successful strength training program. Both aid the body in recovery and the growth of muscle tissue; the better your nutrition and sleep, the better your results from strength training.

Not sure where to begin? The healthy and well balanced approach of the Ornish plan allows for effective fitness in both aerobic and strength training.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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