Why Strength Training Can Keep You Young

The fountain of youth could be simply making a trip to the gym. According to a new study from Penn State College of Medicine, including more strength training in your exercise regimen as you age reduces your risk for early death. Not to say that cardio doesn’t have a host of its own benefits, especially in the aging population when you consider all of the benefits cardio gives in terms of heart health. However, when it comes to strength training, there are demonstrated benefits to lifting weights when it comes to longevity that you can’t get from cardio alone. Let’s look at the study.

Researchers surveyed people age 65 or older about their exercise habits and then followed them for 15 years during which 30% of them died. Only less than 10 percent of the subjects lifted weights, but researchers found that those that did were 46 percent less likely to pass away during the study than everyone else. It is important to note here that correlation is not always causation when looking at prospective studies like these. If we have 65 year old people still lifting weights at the age of 65, they are probably healthier already. They probably have better diets, don’t suffer from chronic diseases and don’t drink or smoke. However, the researchers adjusted for this variable and still found that lifting weight reduced risk of death by 19%.

So why is this? Strength training can keep you independent for longer as you age. By improving your muscle strength, you can get around on your own for much longer with higher stamina and better balance which reduces the risk of falls. Lifting weights also improves bone strength which reduces the risk of fractures. Both falls and fractures are a major risk of disability. Finally, science shows that those with more muscle mass are generally in better health and tend to live longer.

How do you get started? Here are my four recommendations as a personal trainer on how to get started with strength training:

  1. Start small and with just your bodyweight. Doing pushups on chest day or jumping squats on leg day may seem menial at first, but this is the safest way to start if you’ve never lifted weights before. 
  2. After that, you’re not quite ready to start throwing around barbells right off the bat. Machines are your next step. They are great because they only move in one plane requiring minimal strength or stability for a weight training beginner. It also drastically reduces risk of injury. Start their to build your strength until you become confident and coordinated enough for free weights. Start with 3 sets of 15 reps of each machine with a 60 second rest between sets.
  3. Go in with a plan. This is the biggest mistake I see made with beginners. They don’t go in with a clear plan of what muscle group they want to work, what warm ups to do or how they want to stretch and end up just awkwardly wandering around the gym, shuffling through music until just backing out the door an hour later, notably discouraged. I recommend splitting days into bicep/triceps, back, shoulders and legs.
  4. Finally, frequency for a beginner should be 3-4 days a week of 45-60 minutes of weight training, eventually working your way up to 5 days a week after the first month and never any more than 6 days a week to avoid overtraining syndrome. More is not always better. Your body must rest!

The bottom line? It’s never too late to start strength training, there’s no age limit and the sooner and longer you do it the better it’ll be for your lifespan. If you have any prior injuries, chronic conditions or are over the age of 65 you want to talk to your doctor about any precautions you may want to take. If you’re just generally intimidated to get started in the gym, consider enlisting a trainer to help you with a program or just show you how to lift weights safely and effectively. You may live longer for it. 

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