Resistance Training for Older Adults

Do you feel like you’re getting too old to lift weights? Have others warned you it’s not safe? Or have you never really considered it? Aging unfortunately can lead to the loss of strength, lean muscle mass, and bone density. But it doesn’t have to cause a problem!

 

Resistance training with good body mechanics at a high intensity is the best way to make sure these side effects of aging don’t affect your quality of life. The benefits of resistance training are many, but here I’m going to talk about a few well documented ways that strength training can have a positive effect on your life. Building strength is just the tip of the iceberg. The effects of resistance training also influence the nervous system, cardiovascular system and endocrine system, which can help reduce your risk of injury and slow disease progression.[1][2]

 

Increased Strength and Lean Muscle Mass

  • Strength deficits in a variety of muscle groups have been linked with injury. For example, weakness in the hips and trunk (abdominals and back) has been linked with low back pain, hip pain, arthritis, and knee injuries.[3]
  • Even into your 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, strength training can reverse some of the normal effects of aging such as muscle loss. Research is clear that you can still get stronger, improve muscle firing rate, and build muscle mass to help reduce injury.[4]
  • Improved strength can also reduce your risk of falling.

 

Increased Bone Density

  • Reduced bone mineral density significantly increases your risk of fractures which can be painful, expensive to manage, and cause long term disability in some cases.
  • Bone is actually one of the most adaptive tissues in our body. All tissues and organisms adapt based on the stresses applied to them.[1] This is particularly noticeable with bone.
  • Bone density increases significantly with the stress of muscle contraction, impact such as running, or compressive loading.  But the opposite is true as well. The absence of impact, load, and contraction at a high enough intensity will lead to the loss of bone density.
  • Resistance training, especially at high intensities, has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve bone density and reduce the risk for fractures in older adults.
  • Bone density in women decreases significantly after menopause, which leads to a 3x higher rate of hip fractures in women than men. This makes premenopausal strengthening for women especially important. Don’t wait to get started – it is much easier to maintain density than reverse the effects of osteoporosis.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

  • Regular resistance training also helps modify many risk factors of cardiovascular disease.[1]
  • Research has also shown improved aerobic capacity and a reduced resting heart rate.[2]

Other Benefits of Resistance Training

  • Improved glucose control, hormone regulation, and insulin sensitivity
  • Improved sleep, and reduced stress levels
  • Increased mobility for daily function
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Reduced all cause mortality
  1. Consistent strength training actually improves longevity and reduces the risk of all cause mortality. In other words, strong people are harder to kill and live longer.[3]
  2. One study showed 21% reduction in mortality among individuals who engage regularly in resistance training, including a reduction in cardiac events.[4]

 

Hopefully I have convinced you that resistance training is not only safe, but worth your time and effort. In our next blog I will discuss some common misconceptions surrounding weight lifting and provide specific recommendations.

 

References

[1] Mayer F, Scharhag-Rosenberger F, Carlsohn A, Cassel M, Müller S, Scharhag J. The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2011;108(21):359-364. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2011.0359

[2] Williams MA, Haskell WL, Ades PA, et al. Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: 2007 update: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Circulation. 2007;116(5):572-584. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.185214

[3] Saeidifard F, Medina-Inojosa JR, West CP, et al. The association of resistance training with mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2019;26(15):1647-1665. doi:10.1177/2047487319850718

[4] Kamada M, Shiroma EJ, Buring JE, Miyachi M, Lee IM. Strength Training and All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality in Older Women: A Cohort Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(11):e007677. Published 2017 Oct 31. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.007677