I think most of us understand the importance of keeping our bones and muscles strong, especially as we age. But it’s also been our experience that many people simply don’t want to do strength training. Our clients often aren’t excited about adding strength training to their workout regimens. Sometimes they’re a bit intimidated, and they just don’t know where to start. Or they’re comfortable with their cardio routines and like knowing they’ll get their heart rate up during their morning walk.
So let’s talk about the immense benefits – particularly as we get older – of strength training, and some easy ways to incorporate it into your current routine. It’s our hope that we can inspire you to add some strength training to your workouts if you’re not already doing it. Even a few minutes of strength training a week yields positive benefits. As with all of our tips, please check with your doctor before starting a new fitness program.
What is strength training?
Strength training, also called resistance training or weight training, is “the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance, and size of skeletal muscles.” (1) It increases muscle strength by making your muscles work against a weight or force. It involves using one or more muscle groups at a time to perform a specific task, such as lifting a weight or squatting.
These workouts typically involve a set number of repetitions (15 squats, for example), repeated 3-4 times per set with a short rest between. Your muscle needs time to repair after a strength training workout, so it’s good to rest the muscle group used for 48 hours before working on the same muscle group again.
If you’re “resistant” to resistance workouts
Whether you’ve never done a resistance workout or you’ve been doing them for years, strength training is for everyone! If you haven’t tried strength training, now is a great time to start! Strength training isn’t limited to lifting weights at the gym. You can also get a good strength-training workout using your own body weight, resistance bands, or even items around your house.
There is a growing body of evidence about the amazing health benefits of strength training. In fact, many fitness experts say that if you could do one thing to improve your health, strength training should be at the top of your list.
Let’s take a look at some of our favorite health benefits of strength training workouts:
Benefit #1: You’ll get stronger
One of the most obvious benefits of strength training is that it makes you stronger. As you age this becomes more critical. Carla and I have always enjoyed working out together, and we’ve always felt it was important to do some type of strength training weekly. As Carla shares in our video, it wasn’t until after she turned 60 that she really started to understand why strength training is so important. That was when she started noticing that everyday tasks like grocery shopping, cleaning, and chasing after grandkids were getting harder. She’d be more tired than she used to be, and she thought it was just an inevitable side effect of getting older.
But then she increased her strength training. As she increased her muscle mass, she had more energy. She could do those regular, everyday things with ease again, and she’s the most energetic and fun grandma to our 18 grandchildren you’ve ever seen. Those toned muscles have also helped her pickleball game by giving her increased stamina and faster reflexes on the court.
Sometimes our clients, especially women, are hesitant to do strength training because they fear “bulking up” as their muscles get bigger. As Carla can attest, women typically have to work very intentionally to get muscle bulk. Instead, as your muscles get stronger through strength training, your body looks leaner and more toned.
Benefit #2: Burn more calories and fat
Increasing your muscle strength means you burn more calories. The more muscle you have in your body, the higher your metabolic rate is. Muscles are more metabolically efficient than fat, which means that even if you’re just sitting doing nothing, those muscles are burning calories for you. One pound of resting muscle tissue burns 6 calories, while a pound of fat burns about two. In case you’re keeping score, that’s Muscle: 2, Fat, 0.
In addition, recent research shows that your metabolism is higher for up to 72 hours after a strength-training workout. That’s three days for the price of one! This is why we highly encourage adding 10-15 minutes of strength training two days a week while maintaining your cardio workouts. You’re still burning extra calories while giving your muscles the chance to repair.
Many studies also show that strength training is one of the best ways to reduce total body fat, especially that pesky belly fat that tends to show up as we get older. It also helps reduce visceral fat, which is a type of body fat that is stored in the abdomen near several vital organs and is associated with chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. (You can read about my fight against visceral fat in my book, available here.) Strength training helps target this difficult-to-get-rid-of fat.
Also, as mentioned earlier, as you build muscle and lose fat, you appear leaner. That’s because muscle is more dense than fat. It takes up less space on your body pound for pound than fat does. Here’s a good visual for you: imagine the difference between a pound of rocks vs. a pound of puffy marshmallows. That’s a good comparison of the visual difference between muscle mass and fat mass in our bodies.
Benefit #3: Improved heart health
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in people 65 and older. Multiple studies show that regular strength training can decrease blood pressure, lower total LDL (bad) cholesterol, and improve blood circulation as it helps your heart and blood vessels get stronger.
Strength training also helps to regulate blood sugar, which is a major risk for heart disease. It reduces blood sugar by removing glucose from the blood and sending it to the muscle cells. So that means greater muscle mass improves blood sugar management. Studies linking strength training and blood glucose control are significant enough that experts say anyone with type 2 diabetes should incorporate strength training into their routine.
Benefit #4: Stronger bones
Did you know that more than half of all people aged 50 or older struggle with some form of osteoporosis? An estimated 44 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass. Weak bones break easily, and fractures in the spine, hip, wrist, and forearm are particularly prevalent. These injuries are painful and potentially life-altering, especially as we age. These bone problems are preventable, however, and it’s never too early or too late to start taking better care of your bones.
A major benefit of strength training is that it makes your bones stronger. Strength training is actually crucial for healthy bone development and maintenance. When we do weight-bearing exercises, it puts temporary stress on our bones. This tells our bone-building cells it’s time to ‘step up,’ and to rebuild bones stronger.
In addition, every time a muscle contracts, it pulls on the bones it’s attached to. This stimulates the cells in the bone to produce structural proteins and move minerals into the bone. This helps to increase bone mineral density. In one study, just 12 weeks of strength training increased lower spine density by 2.9% and thigh bone mineral density by 4.9%.
Benefit #5: Decreased risk of falling
This benefit of strength training may be one of the most important. Every year, over 3 million older adults are treated in an ER for a fall injury. According to the CDC, over 36 million falls are reported among older adults each year, and there are likely many more that go unreported. One out of every five falls causes an injury, such as a broken bone or head injury.
When you do regular strength training, you’re better able to support your body. It helps improve your balance by working the muscles that keep you stable. In one study with over 23,000 participants over the age of 60, there was a 34% reduction in falls among those whose exercise program included strength training.
Strength training also improves range of motion and mobility of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, all of which help prevent falling and injuries. A recent study found that strength training was as effective as stretching when it comes to increasing range of motion.
Stronger muscles decrease the chance of any type of injury, actually, as it helps correct muscular imbalances. When you strengthen your core, glutes, and hamstrings, it takes pressure off your back, which lowers your chance of back injury or pain. In a study that included 7,738 athletes, strength training reduced the risk of injury by 33%. And it’s a sliding scale – the more resistance training an athlete did, the more their risk of injury declined.
Benefit #6: You’ll feel better!
I cannot deny that I just feel better after I do a good round of strength training. It’s remarkable how much it can boost your mood and improve your mental health! Science backs this up – multiple studies show that strength training reduces anxiety and boosts your mood. I absolutely love the burst of mood-boosting endorphins I get after a great strength-training workout!
Some of that ‘mood boost’ may come from the sense of accomplishment strength training gives you. It provides an opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled and predictable environment. Harvard Medical School has even linked strength training to increased mental resilience.
Strength training is also directly related to brain health and protection against age-related cognitive decline. It offers many neuroprotective effects through improved blood flow, reduced inflammation, and an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is linked to memory and learning.
Studies involving older adults show significant improvements in memory, processing speed, and executive function after participation in strength training. As someone who has always feared Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, I find this benefit highly compelling!
Lift weights, live longer
Have we convinced you yet? This is not a comprehensive list of all the benefits you can get from strength training. We haven’t even mentioned that strength training can equal a longer lifespan. Reports now suggest that muscle strength and lean muscle mass may serve as better measures of a person’s overall health than body mass index (BMI). One study found that grip strength was an accurate predictor of death from any cause; or, in other words, the stronger your grip, the longer you live.
Let’s head to the gym and demonstrate a few of our favorite exercises that you can do practically anywhere.
Strength training exercises you can do anywhere
Note: To see our demonstrations of these exercises, please watch our Week 22 video.
Push-ups are a great exercise that engages multiple muscle groups. If you’re a beginner, you may want to start on your knees. Good form is very important. Engage your core and keep your back straight at all times. Start with a few and work up over time to 3-4 sets of ten. Then move to a regular push-up.
This is one of the best exercises for working those all-important glutes. Form is very important when it comes to squats. You don’t want your knees to go forward over your toes, and you must engage your core and keep your back straight. If you’re a beginner you may need to do these with a ball going down the wall. Once you master that, you can do them with your arms to your side, then your arms out front, then your arms behind your head. If this gets too easy, add weights on your arms.
Planks are a fabulous exercise that works your muscles from head to toe. It is simple to do but very effective. Start by holding a plank position for 15 seconds, and then each time you do it you hold for longer. If you’re a beginner you may need to start on your knees and elbows.
Start with one leg behind the other and then squat down on the leg in front as far as you can. Once again, form is critical. Don’t put your knee in front of your toes, keep your head up, and your back straight. When you start, just go down in place 5 times. Then switch legs and do the same on the other side. Each time you do this work up to more repetitions and more sets. If this is too easy, you can add weights and also walk forward as you lunge, which adds another level of strength and balance.
A little goes a long way
This is a good set of starter exercises that focus on some of the most important parts of your body to strengthen: your core, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and arms. These are the basics. If you’re more experienced then you can add more weight and other types of exercises to get the results you want.
We have added strength training into our workout routines twice a week. Muscle grows when you stimulate it intensely enough and then give it time to recover and rebuild. By adding just 10-15 minutes twice a week, you can experience some of these awesome health benefits, too.
Share your favorite health benefits of strength training with us
Have you fallen in love with strength training yet? Let us know what strength training exercises you love to do and why. If you have any concerns about adding strength training to your workouts, let us know. We’d love to help! You can always reach us on our social media pages or contact us on our website at www.morethanhealthy.com.
If you’d like to join us for our free monthly coaching calls, text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list. We cover all sorts of helpful information and answer your questions.
See you next week!