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Over 50? Why Lifting Weights Should Now Be A Priority

It’s a common misconception that lifting weights is only for the younger generation. As we get older, many of us worry that we’ll lose muscle mass and bone density if we don’t start weightlifting soon. But the truth is, strength training is just as important for adults over 50 as it is for those in their 20s and 30s. In fact, research has shown that weightlifting can help improve cognitive function, metabolism, balance, reduce the risk of injuries, and positively impact your lifespan on a cellular level making you feel more vibrant. If you’re over 50 and haven’t lifted weights before, now is the time to start!

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends older adults perform strength training exercises two to three days a week for a duration of 20-30 minutes each session. (1) Focusing on activating major muscle groups through a variety of different bodily movements is essential in challenging your skeletal and muscular systems. The aim should be to identify and understand the appropriate weight or resistance to achieve 10-15 repetitions before the muscles undergo fatigue.

As outlined above, strength training has positive effects on health with reference to risk factors for cardiovascular disorders, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Strength training is the only type of exercise that can substantially slow and even reverse the declines in muscle mass, bone density, and strength that were once considered inevitable consequences of aging. Furthermore, progressive strength and resistance training is accepted in treating sarcopenia (muscle mass loss) and to improve overall postural control.

Sarcopenia refers to age-related loss of muscle mass and/or physical function leading to muscular weakness. (2) Sarcopenia is one of the four main reasons for loss of muscle mass. On average, it is estimated that 5–13% of elderly people aged 60–70 years are affected by sarcopenia. The numbers increase to 11–50% for those aged 80 or above. After about age 50, muscle mass decreases at an annual rate of 1–2%. The decline in muscle strength is even higher, amounting to 1.5% per year between ages 50 and 60 and 3% per year thereafter. (3) For instance, a 2009 Cochrane review of 121 trials including over 6,700 participants concluded that ‘progressive resistance training is an effective intervention for improving physical functioning in older people, including improving strength and the performance of some simple and complex activities. Most of the trials reviewed involved high intensity training two to three times per week. Benefits included large positive effects on both muscle mass (hypertrophy) and strength. A functional assessment of gait speed showed a modest improvement, and a strong effect was observed on the ability to rise from a chair. (4) Individuals over the age of 50 interested in starting to lift weights should consider looking into tailored guidance from health professionals (like us at MD Health) to learn how to lift weights properly with correct form and activation. Being smart with your approach to beginning your weightlifting journey is essential in not only preventing injuries but enhancing function and performance to achieve your goals. Some common mistakes that individuals may experience when starting their strength training include:

Going too heavy too soon: It’s important to ease into things and gradually increase the weight you’re lifting over time (progressive overload). Going too heavy too soon can lead to injury.

Not using proper form: Form is key when lifting weights, no matter your age. Make sure you’re using correct/optimal form to get the most out of your workout and avoid injury.

Not warming up: Always warm up before lifting weights, especially as you get older. Dynamic (active) stretching and light cardio will help get your muscles ready for a more intense workout.

Not cooling down: Just as important as warming up is cooling down after your workout. Static (passive) stretching and do some light cardio to help your body recover from lifting weights.

Not staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is essential for anyone working out, but it’s especially important as you get older. Stay hydrated throughout your workout and throughout the day to keep your body healthy and prevent injuries.

While no pain, no gain may be a mantra in the weight room, you shouldn’t experience pain while lifting weights. Some discomfort is to be expected as you work the muscle to fatigue. When muscles are challenged by resistance, tissue breakdown occurs. It’s normal to feel some soreness the day after a workout as the muscle fibres heal and become stronger. If you feel joint or nerve pain or are putting a tremendous amount of strain on any part of the body, you’re most likely disregarding the correct lifting form/technique with an inappropriate weight. Strains, sprains, and tissue damage can take weeks or even months to heal but with the guidance from a health professional, the management of these conditions can be addressed and treated accordingly.

One of the hardest things about starting a strength-training program or any new form of exercise is sticking with it. Some things that may help:

  • Schedule your strength training during times in the day or week when you feel most energetic instead of times when you tend to feel run down.
  • Mark your calendar each week with the day and time you will do your exercises and check if off when it’s complete.
  • Ask friends or family members to join you to help give you a boost of motivation and social support.
  • Increase the number of exercises and weights gradually.

In conclusion, beginning a strength training exercise routine after the age of 50 will ultimately boost your health in numerous ways. These include maintaining muscle mass/function, strengthening skeletal system (bones), ease joint pain and increasing your quality of life. These benefits will improve your everyday functional movements such as carrying groceries, bending forward to pick things up and providing you with the capacity to achieve your life goals to feel your best for the years to come.

 

References:

  1. Fragala MS, Cadore EL, Dorgo S, et al. Resistance training for older adults: position statement from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. J Strength Cond Res. 2019;33(8):2019-2052. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003230
  2. Rosenberg IH. Summary comments. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;50:1231–1233.
  3. Abellan van Kan, G. (2009). Epidemiology and consequences of sarcopenia. JNHA-The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, 13, 708-712.
  4. Liu, C. J., & Latham, N. K. (2009). Progressive resistance strength training for improving physical function in older adults. Cochrane database of systematic reviews.

 

Do you have any questions?

  • Call us on (03) 9857 0644 or (07) 3505 1494 (Paddington)
  • Email us at admin@mdhealth.com.au
  • Check out our other blog posts here

Our clinical staff would be happy to have chat if you have any questions.

 

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