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The Importance of Strength Training, Especially For Older Women

Leslie kahn


As an “older woman,” I will be 66 this year, after reading all the research for this article, I plan to start lifting weights to keep my body in tip top shape. One of my sources for this article is “78 Science Backed Benefits of Weight Lifting for Seniors.” I do not want to overwhelm you, so I will list what I consider to be the most important benefits and present the guidelines for safe strength training. I will link to a simple 20-minute workout you can do at home.

Strength training can slow and even reverse the reduction in muscle mass, bone density and strength, once thought to be the inevitable outcome of aging. Strength training is not limited to using weight machines. You can use resistance bands, water, free weights and even your own body weight.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends that seniors engage in strength training activities 2-3 times per week.

Research indicates that inactive older women are at a higher risk for falling due to weak muscle tone, restricted flexibility and balance problems. To counteract these potential obstacles, the recommendation is to first strengthen the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk for 3-4 weeks, at least twice a week.

For active older women, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends:

  • 20-30 minutes of weight training 2-3 times weekly
  • 20-60 minutes of aerobic activity 3-5 days a week
  • Stretching 2 x per week, although I highly recommend daily stretching

The Many Benefits of Strength Training

1. Helps maintain muscle mass and muscle quality
2. Burns fat which increases muscle mass and helps maintain a healthy weight
3. Improves mental health, reducing depression
4. Improves cognitive function
5. Improves bone health by maintaining bone density 
6. Reduces the likelihood of getting osteoporosis
7. Improves heart health
8. Improves sleep; the quality of your sleep and helps you get to sleep faster
9. Reduces pain by strengthening core muscles; you are less likely to get back pain and osteoarthritis
10. Reduces the likelihood of getting Type 2 diabetes
11. Helps maintain better functioning which leads to continued independence
12. Helps reduce recovery time from hip fractures and hip replacements
13. Improves life-expectancy
14. Helps you maintain your balance
15. Increases your metabolism which declines with aging
16. Controls your glucose levels
17. Reduces the signs of aging at the cellular level which helps you look and feel younger 

So now that I have convinced you to start strength training, here are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) Physical Activity guidelines for Older Adults. It is crucial to follow these in order to avoid injury, at least until you know what your body can handle:

8-10 exercises, targeting the following major muscle groups:

  • Core - I cannot overstate the importance of core muscle strengthening. When your core is strong, this takes the stress off of the majority of muscles in your body. This means less injury and pain while increasing mobility, flexibility and function
  • Chest - pectoralis major and minor
  • Back - latissimus dorsi, erector spinae and major and minor rhomboids
  • Shoulders - rotator cuff muscles of which there are 4;  supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres major, deltoids which is a 3 headed muscle and the trapezius
  • Buttocks - gluteus maximus, medius and minimus
  • Arms - biceps and triceps
  • Legs - hamstrings, quadriceps, iliotibial band (IT band), adductor muscle group
  • Lower legs - gastrocnemius, peroneals, tibialis anterior and posterior

BTW, I am a massage therapist, so I get to throw in my expertise, here.

Weight Guidelines 

Start with enough weight to successfully complete at least 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise. Once you are used to the exercises, you can gradually increase the weight while reducing your repetitions to increase your strength. Some trial and error will be required to find the right weight for your needs. It is always recommended that you start with a light weight and gradually increase it.

The 20-Minute Home Workout

All you need is enough room to move freely and a light pair of free weights; begin with 3-5 lb weights and move on to 8-10 lb as you increase your strength. Don’t forget to make sure you have a good pair of shoes. If you are motivationally challenged, find a workout partner with whom you can share your successes. Here is the link.

The Importance of Stretching For Older Adults

Stretching and strengthening are not the same thing. It is as important to stretch your aging muscles as it is to strengthen them. As someone who has been stretching on a daily basis for the past 25 years, I can tell you that stretching has helped me enormously to avoid pain and injury after too much activity.

As we age, our muscles lose a lot of their ability to return to a resting state after use. That means that your muscles are most likely in a constant state of contraction. Stretching allows them to fully relax.

Medical Cannabis and Exercise 

You may want to add medical cannabis to your strength training workout. Here is a link to an article I wrote about the benefits of using cannabis during exercise. Enjoy!

Sources:
verywellfit.com, Strength Training Benefits and Guidelines for Seniors, Paige Waehner, May 25, 2018
runrepeat.com, 78 Science Backed Benefits of Weightlifting for Seniors
verywellfit.com, Best Exercises for Core Strength, Elizabeth Quinn, updated Jan 4, 2020.
verywellfit.com, Your Guide To Strength Training Over 50, Elizabeth Quinn, Oct. 19, 2019
verywellfit.com, 20-Minute Weight Training Workout for Seniors, Chris Freytag, updated Feb. 6, 2020