As we age, our muscle mass, joint flexibility, bone density and fitness deteriorate – and whether we like it or not, co-ordination, balance and strength start to change. Where it was once believed that these changes were an unavoidable part of ageing, research now suggests that the rate of this deterioration is also due to inactivity. It is now widely believed that increasing levels of physical activity – through cardiovascular exercise and strength training – can help reduce or reverse the health risks that tend to occur as we age.
While strength training is important for everyone, after 50 it becomes more crucial than ever. In all of the articles you’ll read on health, diet and fitness for mid-life, there is a commonly repeated word – prevention! So realistically, strength training becomes less about tight abs and thigh-gap, and more about maintaining a strong, healthy body less prone to injury and illness.
What is strength training?
Strength training (also called resistance training or weight training) involves applying resistance to muscular contraction to build your muscle strength and endurance, using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or even your own body weight. An effective program will have you progressively increase the weights as you become stronger, so that your muscle strength gradually improves. Source: The Australian Fitness Academy
The benefits of strength training
Builds muscle mass
No, this doesn’t mean you will ‘bulk up’, nor does it only solely mean lifting weights. You are strengthening the muscles that protect your joints from injury and make you a strong, physically capable woman.
Builds bone density and strength
Reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Unexpected falls, sometimes just in the home, put people in hospital every year. Breaking bones in your later years can have devastating consequences.
Decreases body fat
Maintaining a healthy weight is important especially when it comes to preventing many diseases that come with ageing populations. Losing excess weight also takes unnecessary pressure off your knee joints.
Lowers the risk of chronic disease
Strength training for most older adults can help lessen the symptoms of chronic conditions such as back pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, or depression.
Improves mental health
There is a higher rate of mental health issues in older adults, with the most common mental and neurological disorders being dementia and depression. Strength training has been shown to stimulate endorphins, improve your general self-belief and can help lessen the incidence of depression and cognitive decline.
Improved posture, mobility, flexibility and balance
This decreases the risk of having an unexpected fall and allows you to fully participate in the activities of daily living, whether it is mowing the lawn or playing tennis.
It’s never too late to start strength training. Need a kick-start?
- Look for personal training groups or gym classes that focus on your age group and fitness level.
- While the gym is a great place to weight train, many moves can be done right at home using a chair, hand weights, and a mat.
- There are many fun, simple to follow beginner routines you can follow on Youtube or websites.
… and don’t forget…
- Pay attention to the correct form and posture for all strength related exercises. In a guided environment, ensure your trainer explains and demonstrates techniques you are unsure of.
- You should always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, particularly where there are pre-existing illnesses or disabilities to consider.