Most of us don’t want to think that we’re getting older, but… we are, and as we do, things begin to change. In middle age and beyond, we don’t build or keep muscle tissue in quite the same way that we did when in our twenties.
Oh, back then we thought we were invincible.
(And we sort of were.)
Strength as we age
Let’s talk about the benefits of strength training and what happens to our strength as we age if we don’t actively maintain it or increase it.
Strength training has many benefits, for both physical and mental health. It makes the usual daily activities (e.g. vacuuming, opening heavy doors, lifting children) easier, but strength training also improves bone health, metabolism and even insulin sensitivity. Other benefits include increased mobility and flexibility, improved posture and a boost in energy level and mood.
As we age, we naturally lose muscle strength, size and power (or “oomph” — that force the gets you up and out of a chair). Muscle loss begins somewhere between 35 and 40 years old and continues at the rate of about 3-8% per decade.
Use it or lose it
Whether speaking a language, playing an instrument or moving our bodies in certain ways, if we do not continually use our skills, we don’t keep them up. For our baseline strength, this is very much the case.
A client of mine, in their 50s, had a fitness goal of getting up from the floor in a more fluid way. They wondered when and how getting up had become difficult in the first place. I explained that when we’re younger, we get up and down off the floor all the time. As we get older, younger people offer up their chairs, so we sit on the floor less often. Pair that with the average modern lifestyle of sitting while commuting, sitting at work, and generally not getting enough activity outside of sitting and standing and… there you have it! The floor gets farther and farther away.
Even if we do make time to sit on the floor, it may feel difficult to bend some of our joints and hold our body weight in certain positions. Our nervous system then gets the notion that doing these movements will cause injury and so it further limits our range of motion. So we end up feeling a lack of flexibility and mobility when really what has happened is that we have lost strength.
Pick things up and put them down
While there is no way to absolutely stop the natural loss of muscle as we age, we can strengthen existing muscle and build new muscle at any age. Not just any exercise will do this, either. We need specifically strength training.
Strength training may begin by lifting your body weight in various ways, but eventually will require added resistance — like a band a dumbbell. After awhile, your wonderfully efficient body will learn how to do the movements without building new muscle, so you must also include variety in our training if you wish to keep getting stronger.
If we don’t make conscious efforts to increase our strength it can have a serious impact on our life. Stairs can become difficult. Walking without shuffling becomes more difficult, which increases your likelihood of falls, fractures, other serious injuries or even premature death. For those who will go through menopause, strength training can also help reduce menopause symptoms like hot flashes, slowed metabolism-which leads to weight gain, bone loss, and the decline of insulin sensitivity.
Start from where you are now
If you are not strength training now, find a way to start. I know this can be hard, and people often think they need to work out every day or 5-6 days a week, and that is just not generally the case. With a well planned program, two to three days a week of strength training is all that is needed. Some movement every day is good for us, but it doesn’t have to be full tilt every day — that’s what toxic fitness culture wants you to believe, but it’s not true.
Finding someone to work with you, especially if you are new to fitness, is best. This person can check your form and keep you safe. Whether you’re in a fitness class or in a training session, you will benefit from the eyes and skills of your coach. But I know this is not accessible to everyone.
Here are a few freebies that Reimagym offers:
- A two-day strength training workout plan – you can do this on your own at home, or at a gym.
- Follow along with this full-body workout YouTube video playlist – thirteen strength exercises you can do on your own
- And for variety, a different full-body workout YouTube video playlist – Sixteen more exercises for you to do.
Most importantly, find something you like to do. This should be fun with someone who helps make it fun. The more you enjoy doing it, the more you will stick to doing it.
Reach out if you have any questions. ~Theresa
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