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Benefits of Lifting Weights Later in Life. Part II: Strength

“If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This simplistic phrase means a lot. At its basis, it applies to both mental and physical functioning. Technology has certainly made inactivity easy. The couch has become a magnet to our backsides. For most, the longer one sits, the harder it is to stand back up. Soft couches are the worst, as you throw weight forward and push hard from your arms to compensate for lacking lower body strength. Muscles and joints stiffen quickly. For some, getting off the couch after a short 15 minute rest can be a challenge. While losing muscle mass and strength is an inevitable part of the aging process, it’s still somewhat under your control. The use of targeted, weight bearing strength training can slow the process and potentially even reverse it. We have already touched on the benefits of resistance training bone health, now let’s dig a little deeper into the positive effects it has on your muscles.

It is extremely important to stay active and keep moving throughout life. The ultimate goal for all of us is to retain our independence. Here’s a not so fun fact: muscle mass peaks at the age of 30, and will steadily decline by roughly 1% each year (Goodpaster, et. Al, 2006). This study also showed that loss of muscle strength is accelerated compared to muscle mass, indicating the muscle also decreases in quality as we age. We all would like to feel like we’re 20 again, right? Although research (and personal experience) may shoot down the dream of youthfulness, not all hope is lost. Significant strength gains can be made through exercise and activity modification; ultimately, helping you stay independent in both daily activities and your recreation.

There is countless research confirming that strength gains and muscle mass can increase at any age, including individuals into their 90’s. So why is it so important to stay strong? Strong muscles help you retain balance, bone strength, and independence. Strong muscles let you continue to walk, golf, play tennis, etc. A resistance training study conducted involving 50 older men and women saw participants increase muscle strength by 113 percent, routine walking speed 12 percent, and stair climbing power 26 percent (Hazell, et. Al, 2007).

Performing standing resistance exercises prepares the body to perform daily tasks that present a greater challenge than years previous. The key here is to perform exercises that mimic how we use the muscles in life. Squatting is an excellent example. Too often we train the muscles of squatting, but not the movement. It might come as a shock, but we squat frequently throughout the day. Remember the prior example of getting off that dreaded couch? Well, you’re simply looking to return from a squat. Other examples include: gardening, loading the dishwasher, getting into/out of your car, accessing a low cupboard, etc. Lunging is another common example. We lunge to vacuum, pivot, and reach.

Getting stronger with functional exercise will directly impact your ability to perform activities of daily living. Remember, there’s no better time to start regaining function than today. We will continue with our discussion on the benefits resistance training has on balance and fall prevention in part III.

Our FREE community education class will cover some simple exercises to help you retain or regain your independence. I’ll present some great home exercises that can help you on the path to maintaining or regaining your function.


Goodpaster, Bret H., Seok W. Park, Tamara B. Harris, STeven B. Kritchevsky, Michael Nevitt, Ann V. Schwartz, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Frances A. Tylavsky, Majorlien Vissor, and Ann B. Newton. “The Loss of Skeletal Muscle Strength, Mass, and Quality in Older Adults: The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study.” Journal of Gerentology 61A.10 (2006): n. pag. Web.
Hazell, Tom, Kenji Kenno, and Jennifer Jaboki. “Functional Benefit of Power Training for Older Adults.” Journal of Aging and Physical Activity 15 (2007): 349-59. Web.