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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Thanks! Report
SPINECCO 4/11/2021
Thanks. I love lifting. Report
CD24069739 4/4/2021
Thank you Report
LALIBA 3/6/2021
How do I start? Report
NEPTUNE1939 2/21/2021
ty Report
MAREE1953 1/9/2021
I joined a gym in 1996 and did an aerobic class and a strength training class, but stepped it up to crossfit about 6 yrs ago. Love it. My adult recess M - F 6 am. I was born in 1953 Report
BURNINGTHYME101 11/9/2020
At 68 y.o. I discovered that I have osteoporosis. Learning how to go about it and how to get started weight training will be coming soon. Report
RETIREDSUE 9/26/2020
At 67 years old I have been doing ST for close to five years. I prefer to do full body workouts twice a week often using a few Jessica Smith videos which gives me some variety in my workouts. I always do a lot of stretching after any workout. Report
NASFKAB 7/5/2020
Yes Report
This article was written 9 yrs. ago, so Nancy Howard is 59. Google says:
As of 2020, the breakdown by age looks like this: Baby boomers were born between 1944 and 1964. They're current between 56-76 years old (76 million in U.S.) Gen X: Gen X was born between 1965 - 1979 and are currently between 41-55 years old (82 million people in U.S.) Report
Thanks! Report
I've seen positive results in just 4 months of PT with strength training. I had my 2 yr bone density exam and altho I'm still in the "osteoporotic" range, I show a 6 % increase in bone mass in my thoracic spine. It's a must-do for me. Report
The best part is bone health. Strength training actually reversed my bone loss Report
Thanks! Report
After losing 110pounds a couple of years ago I could see how much muscle mass I had lost over the years. I was an on and off exerciser and not consistently using weights. Once I had lost all the weight, my chiropractor told me to do heavy weights. I started in January and by April I had added 1.5 inches to my arms and 2 inches to my thighs. Unfortunately I have gained 80 pout ack but have more muscle strength to get up out of a chair and I don’t fall as easily as before. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
I need more weight training in my life Report
I so need to get back to ST. Circumstances through the past few years have caused me to put aside my own needs to take care of others . Report
When I was going to the gym, I did some type of strength training once per week. Report
I use weights 2-3 times per week. I love it! Good article. Thanks! Report
Thanks. Very informative Report
I am 53 and I do strength train but I would like to be more consistent.
Would have liked to see how long each of those 2-3 sessions per week are supposed to last... Report
I need to add more of this. Report
We recently bought a home gym at a garage sale, I have been using it 3 days a week. Report
I need to reread this. I walk, but it seems I need to do more. Report
I now see how exercising is important for us as we get older. I was in the hospital 15 months ago on death's door. I now eat properly and exercise every day. I will be 68 years old in two months and off of all medication and I feel better than when I was 50 years old. Report
Strength Training is so important ... especially as we get older. Thank you. Report
I have just recently realized how important it is for me to do my strength training. It's not my favorite exercise but I'm now planning at least 3 days a week to spend 30 minutes on the strength machines at my gym. I'm seeing my muscle mass numbers increase so I'm happy! Report
I know strength training is important. But between wor and caring for 3 elderly parents, it's hard to get to the gym with any consistency. Report
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
Thanks Report
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
So true! Report
I know I feel better after a workout in the gym, I just need to stop procrastinating - stop typing and go :) Report
I love doing strength training. It's such a gratifying feeling after a good workout with weights. Report
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