Did you know that after we reach age 50, we start to lose muscle mass? In fact, if you’re a woman, you may lose as much as 7 pounds of muscle per decade. That’s not good news, is it? Although muscle loss is a normal part of aging, there are things we can do to preserve lean body mass and keep our bodies strong throughout our lifetimes. One of those things is resistance training.
What Is Resistance Training?
Resistance – or Strength – Training is exercise in which your muscles contract against some type of external resistance with a goal of stimulating muscle development. (1) This “external resistance” could come in several forms:
- Weight Machines – These are the the type of resistance machines you may find in a gym. They’re great for beginners because they can help you get started without a huge learning curve.
- Free Weights – These are weights like dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells.
- Resistance Tubes or Bands – These are tubes or bands that are made of rubber, that come in several different resistance levels. If, like me, you worry about them breaking or slipping and hitting you in the face, you may want to try bands that are made from cloth-like material instead. I have the Arena Strength resistance bands that are made this way, and I really like them.
- Body Weight – Think push-ups, planks, lunges, back extensions, etc….
- Suspension Trainers – These use a combination of gravity and your body weight to provide the resistance. One popular one, and the one I have, is the TRX suspension trainer.
Why Is It So Important?
Often we think of resistance training as something that bodybuilders do to build big muscles, but the truth is, big muscles are only a small part of what strength training can do for us. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- It can help us maintain lean body mass. Strength training can help us fight the loss of muscle mass that occurs with age, and can prevent sarcopenia, “a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength with a risk of adverse outcomes such as physical disability, poor quality of life and death.” (2)
- It also helps keep our “power” muscles engaged. This is vital in order for us to maintain the power to move quickly and be agile. That can help us prevent accidents and falls as we grow older.
- It can help improve our posture.(3) There are many exercises that can help us improve our posture. This can reduce pain and other issues associated with postural problems.
- Strength training helps strengthen our connective tissues. This can help us avoid injury to our muscles and joints.
- It can improve metabolic function. Lean tissue burns more calories, even when we’re resting, so the lean tissue we gain from doing resistance exercise can increase our resting metabolic rate.
- It can help prevent osteoporosis. If you already have osteoporosis, it may help replace some of the bone mineral density you’ve previously lost. When we put stress on our bones, the cells within them respond by making our bones more dense and stronger. In her book Roar (4), Stacy Sims says, “Numerous studies have shown that postmenopausal women with low and very low bone density see significant bone density gains – improving about 1 percent a year – in the spine and hips, which are areas affected most by osteoporosis, when they participate in a regular strength training routine.”
- Resistance training can improve our self-esteem. This is due to a couple of things. For one, as we gain self-efficacy (belief in ourselves) as we find we’re able to do these exercises, we start to feel better about what our bodies can do. As we talked about in Do You Need a New Wellness Identity?, when we start to see ourselves differently, we will act differently. Secondly, as our body composition changes due to gaining muscle, we may appreciate our bodies more.
- It can help us sleep better. When we’re exercising our muscles routinely, we tend to sleep better.
With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why resistance training is so critical to our overall wellness, especially as we age.
As with any other exercise, it’s important to start small and progress slowly. This is hard – we all want quick results – but it’s more important to establish consistency first. Once you’ve done that, you can add on slowly.
We’ll get more specific about Strength Training in upcoming posts, but if you want to get started right away, you can check out some beginner exercises you can do at https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/exercise-library/
Do you include resistance training in your exercise regimen? What are some of your favorite strength exercises to do? Please share!
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(1) ACE Personal Trainer Manual, Fourth Edition, 2010, Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, and Daniel J. Green, editors, American Council on Exercise, San Diego, CA.
(4) ROAR, How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life, 2016, Stacy T. Sims, PhD, Rodale, New York, NY.