Strength Training is no longer ‘just for jocks’, ‘just for young people’ ‘just for men’, or even ‘just for strength’!
The research I have conducted for more than 3 decades has convinced me that strength is the foundation of independence, vitality and quality of life for older adults. While one of the obvious benefits of strength training is, of course, increased strength, there are many more benefits to be gained from a regular program of moderate to high intensity strength training. This includes reducing both the risk and occurrence of a variety of disabling diseases and health conditions.
Strength to cope with Arthritis: Strength training has been shown in scientific studies to significantly increase muscle strength and general physical performance. This, in turn, reduces the physical stress of everyday tasks, improves bodily comfort and eases movement generally for persons with Arthritis. Studies have also shown that strength training improves the clinical signs and symptoms of Arthritis and is just as effective, if not more so, than medications.
Strength to keep you on your feet: An appropriately designed strength training program can increase strength, improve balance and so reduce your risk of falling. At the same time it can also improve body mechanics and postural stability. Every major Fall Prevention Initiative in the US includes a strength component as an essential part of its program. See my post ‘Tips for Staying Topside’ for more information.
Strength for stronger bones: Strength training can have a positive, strengthening effect on bones. Studies over the last 20 years have shown that, for both men and women over the age of 50, strength training can safely increase bone strength by 3-4% in as little as 16 months. Incorporating higher intensity bodyweight movements, such as hopping, into strength training sessions produces even more impressive results in bone building.
Strength for watching your weight: We can lose as much as six pounds of muscle every decade as we age. This results in a three percent per decade reduction in resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy you use at rest). This in turn leads to an 18-pound per decade increase in body fat. Yikes! The good news is that a regular program of strength training increases muscle mass, and this can provide as much as a 15% increase in resting metabolic rate over time – a major contribution to both weight loss and long-term weight control. Strength training for weight loss is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Strength for a healthy state of mind: Strength training produces similar improvements in mild to moderate depression as anti-depressant medications. I recently published a major review of research studies investigating the link between Physical Activity and Mental Health. Following moderate-high strength training programs of between 4 and 12 weeks, patients diagnosed with clinical depression reported meaningful improvements in symptoms.
Strength for controlling blood sugar: Recent research, including my own, has shown important improvements not only in strength, but also in glucose control following 16 weeks of strength training with older adults. While aerobic exercise is ‘the usual’ recommendation, research shows that strength training can produce even greater benefits than aerobic training. AND THERE’S MORE! Strength training has also been shown to increase spontaneous physical activity, reduce the requirement for diabetes medication, improve blood pressure control, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve blood lipids.
Strength for a good nights sleep: Good sleep may be linked to good feelings, and strength training boosts good feelings such as self-confidence, self-esteem and the sense of well-being. To investigate this link, researchers from Tufts University studied 32 subjects diagnosed with depression who performed strength training 3 times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the program all subjects reported reduced depression and improved sleep quality. Other studies have also found that the sleep benefits obtained as a result of strength training are comparable to benefits from medication but without the side effects or the expense.
Strength for a healthy heart: Strength training is important for cardiac health in part because heart disease risk is lower when the body is leaner. Our own research has found that both functional and clinical outcomes can be dramatically improved by adding a strength training program to conventional cardiac rehabilitation. The American Heart Association recommends strength training as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and as therapy for patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs.
QUESTION: What does GETTING STRONG! look like to you this year?
Be part of the conversation – record your thoughts on this post in the comments box below – or ask a question of your own. My answer may even be the next blog post!
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