We hear a lot of people say, “Age is nothing but a number”. It might just sound good for your psyche and boost your self-confidence, but somehow our physiological and biological functions don’t really take those words seriously.
Aging is an inevitable and might I say a daunting process. And this is exactly why one must be prudent and take proper effort and action to improve your overall health and longevity. If we look back, many centenarians never went to gyms, pumped iron, ran marathons etc. Instead, they worked on their muscles by engaging in everyday chores like gardening, chopping wood, walking and doing manual labour, depending on their lifestyle. But these days, due to advances in technology we are deprived of such natural movements. As we age, it is important that we make sure that our lifestyle, especially that of seniors, should not be inactive or sedentary; men and women both.
Diet is the key to maintaining one’s weight but that is not enough. Many of us believe that doing certain aerobic activities is more than enough to get our heart pumping, keep it healthy and well and also lose weight. But, what about the muscular system of our body?
The muscles in our body play a vital role in almost everything: movement, maintenance of posture, heat generation, pumping blood, supporting organs and so much more; the list runs long. This is exactly what makes weight training crucial for aging bodies. By early 40s, we all start losing our muscle mass and this decline could lead us to dependence and frailty.
Even though we all love our cardio, we must dedicate some part of our exercise routine for weight training; especially when you are aging.
When I say weight training, it just doesn’t mean pumping iron but also resistance training and callisthenics.
Here are few benefits of weight training for aging bodies (from the 40s to the seniors irrespective of gender):
1 – Decreased risk in heart related diseases.
In a study published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, it is seen that weight training has a potential to reduce the risk of stroke from 40% to upto 70%. But including weight training (even if for less than an hour) is beneficial in reducing other cardiovascular diseases too. There are many who might not afford a gym membership. In that case, you could do simple exercises that involve your body weight. At this stage of life, size might matter but strength undoubtedly matters more. It improves the cardiovascular health by decreasing both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. In seniors, it is observed that weight training has been shown to improve the HDL (commonly known as good cholesterol) by 8 to 12% and reduce LDL (known as bad cholesterol) by 13 to 23% on an average. It also reduces the levels of triglycerides with an average of 11 to 18%. Triglycerides are more dangerous for one’s cardiovascular health as opposed to the usually demonized cholesterol.
2 – Decreases the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
As we age, it is common for the muscles to weaken and it is worse for those with RA (rheumatoid arthritis). It has been seen that moderate to high intensity weight training is extremely beneficial in maintaining or increasing the muscle strength in patients with RA. However, low intensity workouts might not be that effective. And if you start early, then probably you could manage to keep RA at bay.
3 – Increased muscle mass can reduce fall risk.
As we age, we tend to develop a condition called sarcopenia, which tends to decrease the skeletal muscle tissue and strength. Now this could lead to certain strength problem and impaired motor skills. People with this condition have a risk of falling often which might lead to serious injuries. Hence, weight training and increasing strength will greatly help in improving balance and coordination.
4 – Improved Bone Density
The process of aging reduces the density of the bones which could make it brittle and prone to breaking. This condition is known as Osteoporosis. Weight training helps strengthen bones and prevents the onset of Osteo.
5 – Improves Cognition and Moods
Weight training along with cardio exercises could greatly improve cognitive ability and memory functions. It can also reduce the risk of neuro-inflammatory diseases like Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Weight training has been proven to improve mental health and also fight depression as we age. It also increases levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors) which is responsible for better functioning of existing neurons and promotes growth of new neurons and synapses, which helps in better functioning of learning abilities, memory and higher-level thinking.
6 – Helps in possibly curbing and reversing cellular aging.
Here, I need to briefly describe the study:
The end of the chromosomes, of our DNA structure, consists of Telomeres which are made repetitive sequences of non-coding DNA which protects the ends of the chromosome from degenerating. This shortening of the length of telomeres is the marker for a cell’s aging process. An enzyme named telomerase combats the shortening of the telomere. It is proven that those who undertake weight training combined with endurance and high intensity training enable increased activity of telomerase which results in the lengthening of the telomeres. Thus triggering a natural anti-aging cycle.
Apart from the above-mentioned effects:
- Weight training not only helps gain and strengthen muscles, but it also improves metabolism where Irisin, an isolated hormone responsible for managing obesity and weight management is secreted from muscles, which plays a significant role in converting the metabolically inactive fat to the heat generating good fat. Weight training increases the levels of Irisin.
- Weight training improves the flexibility of every joint movement.
- Weight training is a proven and effect tool to consistently reduce insulin resistance. It is seen that even a single session of weight training boosts insulin sensitivity for at least 24 hours. It also increases the amount of glucose uptake by muscles in type 2 diabetics as well as non-diabetics.
- Weight training increases the levels of Adiponectin, released by adipose (fat) tissues which help in breaking down fatty acids and regulating glucose levels.
- As one ages, weight training can be effective in improving sleep quality and reduces the severity of sleep apnea and restoring normal sleep patterns.
However, it is important to keep in mind, especially for senior members to take proper precautions before getting into weight training.
- Never skip warm-ups: this loosens your muscles and prevents injuries during workout.
- Keep in mind to start slowly so that this whole exercise is sustainable and doesn’t seem like a chore. The goal is to build strength and improve health. Instead of competing with others, focus on your own improvement.
- It is always better to take help from an expert/trainer as they can help you maintain a proper form during workouts. A good and proper form during workouts is essential to prevent injuries (especially later in life).
- Lastly, for senior members, consult your doctor before embarking on this journey and only if you get a go ahead, should you proceed.
Even though this article mainly focuses on the benefits of weight training, please bear in mind that you need to include at least a few aerobic exercises in your fitness routine for a more holistic approach.
I sincerely hope that this article helps you care for your muscles and also improves your overall physical and mental health. Stay fit! Stay blessed!