Why Strength Training Is a Necessity for Older Adults

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, each year I edge a little closer to those wonderful golden years. In just a little over six months I will be celebrating my 50th birthday, a milestone I am eager to reach, after all how can I complain when I am the healthiest I have been in my life. And the icing on the cake is that I get to move up to the next age division for running events. However, I do find that with each passing year it takes a little longer for me to recover from my workouts, especially after my long runs once they hit the double digit distance or after a heavy duty strength training session.

On Wednesday I had the privilege to listen to a presentation via the internet led by Dr. Wayne Westcott, Fitness Research Director, South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. I have been a long time fan of Dr. Westcott going back years ago when I was an avid reader of Prevention Magazine. One of my all-time favorite books of his is Get Stronger, Feel Younger a book that basically tells of the importance of strength training for women.

Wednesday's presentation titled, Use It or Lose It; The Importance of Strength Training for Seniors covered the reasons why strength training needs to be an integral part of our fitness activity as we age. While many of us are consistent with our aerobic activity, the older we are the more important strength training becomes in helping us build lean muscle mass, lowering the amount of fat we carry while increasing our metabolic rate due to an increase in metabolically active tissue.

The stats he presented were alarming. According to Dr. Westcott, for every decade we do not strength train there is approximately a seven pound loss of lean body mass for men and a five pound loss of lean body mass for women. This equates to a 2-4% drop in our metabolic rate PER decade. Even if you are aerobically active your body will still lose lean body mass if you are not strength training.

If you are reading this and realize the years have passed by without ever picking up a weight, hope is not lost. Dr. Westcott stated that there is no age limit to start strength training, just be certain you get medical clearance from your physician before starting any exercise routine.

According to Dr. Westcott, strength training is the only single action we can take that will build muscle, recharge our metabolism and reduce our fat percentage. And you may be surprised to hear that it only takes 2-3 strength training sessions per week to achieve this goal. However, for older individuals he recommends you give at least 72-96 hours of rest in between your workout sessions when working the same muscle groups. For example, if you do chest, back and arms on Monday, you will want to wait until Thursday or Friday before you work these same muscle groups again. This allows for greatest recovery and strength to perform the exercises the next time. You can, however, do legs/lower body on Tuesday and Saturday.

But what do you do if you are new to strength training? Where do you begin?

Strength training for many can be an intimidating experience, especially if you have never strength trained before. For this reason Dr. Westcott advises his clients new to strength training that they start with machines first. The reason--machines are less intimidating and are easier for newbies to begin with. Once one has mastered machines, then he/she can move onto free weights before they begin working on functional training.

The results after just 10 weeks of consistent strength training are amazing. Dr Westcott’s clients showed:
  • A 3 pound increase in lean muscle gain
  • A 3.7 pound fat loss
  • A 2.0% reduction in fat
He also stated that stretching either between each set of exercise or upon completion of the exercise routine showed an average 19% increase in strength gain. For this reason, aerobic activity, strength training and stretching are all important in our overall fitness goals.

Dr. Westcott advises older adults that the ideal time for protein consumption is immediately after their workout session. It doesn’t have to be a fancy protein supplement either. Chocolate milk, yogurt with some carbohydrates, such as fruit, will suffice. The reason-- the muscles are especially efficient in absorbing protein and carbohydrates into the muscles after a workout.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, also known as the Father of Aerobics, has stated in his book, Start Strong, Finish Strong, the older we get the more important the role strength training is in our fitness routine. He states that by the time we are 60 years of age 45% of our workout time should be attributed to strength training with the other 55% being spent doing aerobic activity. The goal is to keep our bodies lean and strong which will help us go through our golden years with vim and vigor.

Do you strength train consistently? If not, what is the biggest obstacle in getting started or continuing a strength training protocol? Were you surprised how little time is required to achieve such wonderful results? Doe this inspire you to hit the gym or begin a strength training routine at home?

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