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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MAREE1953 3/27/2018
For the last 5 years I've done Crossfit 5 days a week. Before that, I took RIPPED and other classes at my gym 5 days a week. Weekends are generally walking, running or bicycling. I turn 65 next month. Early morning Classes at the gym work best for me--just tell me what to do! Report
VHAYES04 3/15/2018
Thanks Report
HAPPYDOES 1/31/2018
I've never done strength training on a consistent basis. I never realized just how important it is for seniors, nor how much muscle mass we lose each decade that we do not strength train routinely, nor how long I should wait between workouts now that I am nearing 60!
Great article! Thank you! Report
PATRICIA-CR 1/28/2018
So true! Report
RELEASINGME 10/29/2017
I know I feel better after a workout in the gym, I just need to stop procrastinating - stop typing and go :) Report
FITWITHIN 8/22/2017
I love doing strength training. It's such a gratifying feeling after a good workout with weights. Report
ROBBIEY 8/8/2017
I definitely need to get in the weekly habit of weight training as I get older. I would much rather just run. Report
I've just turned 46 and I've noticed that my strength has really gone down. Moving my iron skillet from the oven to the stove is rough. Thank you so much for the information. Report
reading this article was so timely for me. I am 62 and have neglected my body for years.. I am paying the price.. I want to strength train but I get so confused on where to begin Report
I'm 70 yoa and doing about 60-70 minutes of strength training per day for the last 6 months and less for a couple years before that with the objective of increasing my distance running time and stamina. I'd like to get my 8K time under 40 minutes. I recently visited my son and his family on the west coast for three weeks during which time I only did a couple of light workouts. I did not count calories or diet during this time and really ate a lot of food including several all you can eat buffets! Upon return home, I expected to have increased my weight somewhere above 161 which is where I had been but was a bit surprised to find I'd actually lost weight and was back down to 155 lbs. I attributed this to loss of muscle mass but didn't realize at my age that it could disappear so quickly. I'd been down to 155 lbs before I began to increase my daily strength training regimen and believed that the gradual weight gain was due to added muscle mass. This also allowed me to hit the golf ball quite a bit further than before! Anyway, now that I'm back in the routine, I notice I'm putting a few pounds back on rather quickly! I'm not concerned at all about adding a little muscle mass weight and consider it a more healthy condition at my age and current weight. Per BMI, I should be right around 158-161. Report
Amen. Report
I'm 58 focused on cardio and ST(not much) for 1 1/2 yrs. started pushing myself towards ST every day always alternating every week/day to different body parts and exercises(I get bored sooooo need to change it up) since December....getting some muscles, loosing some weight, feeling GREAT!
Great blog and member comments
Thank you! Report
I lurve ST. I was fortunate in that DH bought us a multigum 3 Christmases ago and it gets regular usage. I feel so much stronger for regular sessions on it (and other ST) and am able to do more.
I wish I could convince my friends of a similar age to me (53) to do "some" training, it is SO important!

Thanks for the advice on the rest periods Report
I strength train now 1 day a week and if I'm lucky 2. I know how important it is and plan to do 2-3 weekly. Report
Thanks for the information. Great article. I am 51 and feel better and am in better shape than when I was much younger. Unfortunately I avoid the weight room at the gym. Guess I had better buck up and just do it. Report
Thanks for the informative article, Nancy. I have neglected strength training and you have reinforced the need for it, so will get a program going real soon. Report
I am a firm believer in the Curves Circuit Training... great cardio as well as strength training in a 30 minute workout ;) Fantastic workout!!! Report
I do it 3 times a week, it has made the total difference in how I look and feel! Report
The last two weeks, my strength training has been shoveling snow! LOL. But generally I try to hit the gym 2x a week. I just don't do the gym when we have huge snowstorms - my muscles get too sore otherwise! Report
No, I have always been overweight and never embraced exercise at all. I will be 60 later this month and this article couldn't have come at a better time...my mind is clearly focused on better health and weight loss (better late than never) I will heed the warning here and get started on some strength training this week! Report
Yes, I train at least 2x per week. Typically, one of my strength sessions is actually curcit training as well so it acts as cardio. Usually do full body each time I train. I use body weight and free weights for my lower body and usually cable weights and free weights for the upper body. Report
I had gotten out of my workout habit when I moved, so January 1st I started on the treadmill, working out each day before work. Now I've added strength training back into the schedule. It's challenging, but it feels great! Report
Started strength training about the time I turned 50 - after reading the book "Younger Next Year" which advocates ST 2x a week, and cardio 4x. Even starting out simple and with light weights I saw a difference almost immediately. Progressed to a class with light hand weights, then tried the New Rules of Lifting program for a year.

Problem with New Rules was that the length of the workouts varied, making it hard to fit into my schedule. Currently following the Body For Life plan, where the workouts are all about 45-50 minutes, which works well for me. Have seen measureable results in only 6 weeks, so again - strength training pays off quickly! Report
I just recently started strength training on the days I don't ride my stationary bike. I am in my late 50's and I need to add strength and balance to my exercises. I took a bad fall 3 years ago and blew out my knee. I have begun to realize how I need to work on coordination now. A very good blog to motivate me on continuing the strength training. Report
I love strength training. I FEEL so much stronger and I notice everyday things I do come easier! Besides I think it's good for all those young people in the weight room to see a 60-yr.-old woman lifting weights! Report
Hate ST. Never do it. Love cardio. Did 2.5 hours just on Sat alone.

Want to find a way to make ST less boring so I can do it 2x a week. Report
I love the blog and it had some great information, however I don't think of 50 as the beginning of the 'golden years'. I needed to laugh. Thanks for sharing the great information I think I will change up my exercise routine. Report
While machines may be good for beginners, don't count out free weights in the beginning as well. I know many machines (especially for the upper body) are "too big" for me as a petite (5'4") woman. Dumbbell curls are better than trying to use the machine especially. Adapt for you, and reap the benefits. A good trainer can instruct you in the appropriate options at orientation in the gym. Report
We have free weights at home, from when our sons were teenagers, so I use those, it is remarkable the change, especially in your arms and shoulders from using free weights. They are not real extra heavy, the heaviest ones are 12 lbs. You don't have to join a gym or hire trainers to do these things. You can even do kitchen counter push ups and wall push ups to help your upper arms and back area. I've complained to several Health and Fitness magazines about how they ignore people over age 55 or so, as if we are worthless to them. Report
I read about the 45% strength training versus 55% cardio in a recent blog. It was surprising to me at the time, but it motivated me to ensure I get in those 2-3 sessions each week. As summer approaches and I start to train for some very long bicycle rides, I won't reach the 45% number, but I'll still aim to get in the 2-3 sessions. It will just that the amount of cardiovascular exercise is going to be demanding many more hours. I also admit that I concentrate more on my upper body since cycling does so much for my lower body, but perhaps this isn't the best idea. Report
I find I'm more consistant with strength training than I am with cardio. In the summer, I have no problem with cardio, but in the winter I get bored with the treadmill. With strength training, I can change it up if I get bored. Report
I've strength-trained in the past and need to take it up again. Thanks for the reminder, Nancy! And you'll be one of the WORLD'S healthiest, most vibrant 50-year-olds, too! Happy upcoming birthday :) The fifties are a great decade, you'll find! (Me, I'm facing six-oh...and lookin' forward to it!) Report
I do yoga, and it is strength training, you do lift your own body weight, and believe me, that can be a challenge. It is good to keep out bones strong and healthy. You can also work with a few light weights, and build up to heavier weights. Report
Well, unfortunately, there is no way I could ever afford a gym membership. I am barely making it as it is, on a very tight budget. So machines are just not in my future. Report
Hi, I am 68 years old and unfortunately do strength training sporadically. I have had an Occupational Therapist coming to my home to help me with strength training because I have Multiple Sclerosis among other illnesses and find it hard to get out to do things, but when the therapy was finished, I stopped doing my training on a regular basis. I also have a pedal cycle that I can use while sitting and watching TV. I can use it with both lower and upper extremities. I do use it regularly for the lower extremities, but neglect the upper. After reading this article, I will try to do the upper pedaling as well as the other strength training. This is my first time writing on a blog. Report
!! This is a great article. The groan is I really don't like to strength train. I have every excuse in the book why I can't. It's not like I don't know how important it is. So no more excuses!!! I will start to strength train on a reg basis as recommended. Like it or not. I will have to work on doing it with a SMILE !!! LOL Report
I do circuit training classes atleast a few times a week to get my strength training in. I sometimes do them at the gym as well, or home if need be with my free weights. I also just got Jilian Michael's shred it with weights. I did her workout twice this week with my 8 lb dumbbells . I really felt it. My ripped class is an awesome workout too. I've always tried to include adequate strength training along with my cardio, over the last 5- years especially. Report
I cancelled my curves membership and joined the YMCA last week.
I aim to get over my lack of confidence in the gym and get some strength routines going! 10 weeks for those results?!
My first 10 k run is mid April & this article motivates me to incorporate strength into my training. Thanks! Report
This is a very important message. Thanks for highlighting it. I would also like to point out in his example, the "scale" would only show a .7 pound loss. Nevertheless, the truth is that there had been a 3.7 pound fat loss. Report
I try to strength train at least 3 times a week, cardio at least once a week, this year I started working with kettlebells. There a little different then using dumb bells, which I also have. I like the change of pace. Report
I used to strength train when I was in my 30's, but have let it go for quite some time. Guess it's time to get back into it, as I'm 58 and not getting any younger! Report
I do some wimpy strength training at home, but I can see I need to bump it up a notch! Report
I'm afraid that if you're about to turn 50 you've just missed the baby boomers official generation. You're whatever comes next...... Report
Yes, I believe strength training is vital to a longer, higher quality of life. I am trying to build as much lean muscle as I can so I have the best opportunity for a better life as I grow older. My Dad still does too (in his 70s) which is definitely motivation that age is not an issue when it comes to doing what you want. Report
I am a true believer in strength training, but until recently was having trouble convincing my husband(going on 75) that it was really necessary. After some surgery setbacks he is now ready to give it a shot. Our Valentine gift to each other...Sessions with personal trainers at our gym and a commitment to following up when the sessions are over! Report
Strength Training should be mandatory for all adults over 50 years of age ! I'm a Certified Group Instructor (AFAA), 66 years old and teach 2 Weight Training Classes a week at our local YMCA ( NJ) for the past 14 years.
We have excellent results, more then 10 cases (female) of reversing osteroprorosis, better recovery (because stronger muscles) after knee replacment sugery, overall (30 students) a reduction in weight and trimmer, leaner bodies. As I say "I've got the best looking class of seniors in all of the YMCA's across America...". Report
I strength train 5-6 x per week. Cardio 7 days per week (I have a young dog who needs it too because we have lots of energy) Strength training is the best and has always put me in the best shape of my life! I hope I continue throughout my lifetime. Report
At 63 I started running 3-4 x per week, but when I would look in the mirror I see creapy looking arms (just old looking). I had had shoulder surgery a few yrs ago so I had stopped doing much strength training. After reading several articals on strength training for seniors I decided it was time to pick up the weights again. Only using 1-3 lbs of weight 2-3 x per week with in a month my arms looked so much better and I dropped and additional 5lbs. I am hooked now. I refuse to let age pull me down. I intend to be the best I can be for my age. If only I had been consistant in my younger years, but I have gained ground everyday and feel better then I have in 15 or 20 yrs. Report
Love strength training. Whether it's machines, free weights, body weight or bands. Been st for approximately l8 months now. Ususally 3-4 times a week. Report
Went to lecture on hypertension on Th. evening. Dr. stressed importance of not ONLY doing CARDIO exercise at least 5x/week, and working up to 5 or 6 days /wk., but ALSO doing STRENGTH training at least 1-2x/wk. as very imp. in preventing heart disease and stroke. Report
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